Commentary on the Book of Revelation
Book 2:Things That Shall Be
AN EXPOSITION OF REVELATION 4-22
For chapters 1-3 see: Book 1 (ch. 1-3)
(1) Prophecies Leading Up to These
Our title to the following pages indicates our adherence in some sense to the interpretation of the book of Revelation which makes the body of it - the nineteen chapters upon which we are entering - apply to what is still for us future. Those who so apply it, what ever differences in detail there may be among them, are on this account called "futurists", in contrast with the large school of "Presentists" or "Historicalists," who find in it a progressive history of the Church from the beginning, and interpret it naturally by that history. They are usually and strongly opposed to one another, as might be expected, although there is no necessary opposition in the views themselves. Both may be held, and have been held together, by some who hold that there is an incipient, real, though incomplete fulfillment of divine prophecy, as well as a final exhaustive one; the first being often an assurance and help to the meaning of the latter. And this I accept for myself as at least generally true, and true in the case before us, and that (to use the words of another) "they are both alike practically wrong who have slightingly rejected the one or the other [application], and thus respectively deprived the Church of each."
But while I thus would keep in mind and seek to profit by this double interpretation, the latter is what I desire, as God may enable me, to develop and insist upon, and this for more reasons than one, but especially just because it is that which is alone complete and final, and still lying in the future for us; whereas the historical interpretation occupies us largely with the past, - a past. still fruitful for us assuredly, but less full of personal appeal. This will indeed be questioned, and it is not yet the time to answer the question.
Clearly the first point now is to prove, if it can be proved, the futurity of the fulfillment of the prophecies which we are to examine, - that such fulfillment is required by the inspired language of the book itself, and by a comparison with other Scripture. This ascertained, we can look better at objections which have been made to it, and realize also the profit of what is to engage us.
The first principle to be got hold of is that given us by the apostle Peter, that "no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Pet. i. 20). It is prophecy that is in question here, not all Scripture, as the Romanists would apply it. But also "private interpretation" is literally "its own interpretation." No single prophecy must be read alone, - as if it stood apart from the rest; but in connection with the whole plan of it in the Word. "For prophecy came not in old time by the will of man," - is not therefore the expression of the many minds of men; "but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost : " - there is One perfect mind throughout it.
Now the violation of this will be found to be largely the cause of the failure of expositors. They neglect a rule which the apostle emphasizes as of first importance - "knowing this first." It is comparatively easy to find some plausible application of a single passage; it is quite another thing to make this fit with a general prophetic testimony. Comparison of passage with passage on this subject is what we are invited and compelled to therefore, if we would have truth instead of theory, realized certainty rather than conjecture. What we hold must be tested and retested by the application of similar scripture, so that at least "in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word" may "be established."
Moreover, it will be plainly of importance to find some comprehensive prophecy connecting itself with some fixed point, or points, on Scripture, with which others may be then securely connected. Such prophecies we may find again and again in the book of Daniel, a book in the closest relation also to the book of Revelation, as all expositors of whatever school are agreed absolutely.
Turn we, then, in the first place, to the second of Daniel. We have here Nebuchadnezzar's vision of the four Gentile empires under the symbol of a great image, which is brought to an end by the sudden descent of a stone cut without hands out of a mountain; the stone becoming then a great mountain which fills the whole earth. This stone is interpreted for us as the kingdom of God., which is seen thus in victorious opposition to the kingdoms of the world, suddenly and totally destroying them. It is after this only that it grows and fills the earth. The world-kingdoms are not pervaded or "leavened" by the kingdom of God., but run their course first, and are then at once destroyed by it. This fall of the stone is one of those fixed points for which we are looking, and it is future without doubt.
In the seventh chapter the prophet has a vision of these same four empires, now seen very differently as four wild beasts, while the kingdom of God is introduced by the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of heaven. And here it is, if possible, still more plain that this kingdom only commences with the destruction of the former ones. There is no possibility of any side by side development. Of the "little horn" of the last beast it is said: "And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws, and they shall be given unto his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time; but the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it to the end. And the kingdom and dominion and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions should serve and obey Him."
Thus it is evident that the kingdom of God here is that which will be set up only when the Lord returns in the clouds of heaven; that till then the kingdoms of the Gentiles continue, and then they are once for all broken and set aside. In connection with the last beast, moreover, we have just before the end the rise of a power which shows itself a blasphemous and persecuting one, and which by this brings judgment down upon itself and the beast, or empire, with which it is connected. This horn lasts, moreover, (in this character) just three and a half prophetic times, and then the judgment sits, and his dominion is taken away.
Carrying, then, these things with us, let us now go on to the ninth chapter, a prophecy which, for intelligence in the general plan of divine wisdom, is central in importance, and, interpreting as little as we can help, let us put this in connection with what we have already seen.
It is the well-known prophecy of the seventy weeks. In it we have an answer to Daniel's confession of his sin, and the sin of his people Israel, and his supplication for the holy mountain of his God; and he is told - "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy."
The meaning should be plain, that at the end of seventy determined weeks, Jerusalem 's trausgression would be finished, and her sins would be at an end, her iniquity being purged, and everlasting righteousness brought in for her; and her holy place, now desecrated, be once more anointed. At the same time vision and prophecy would be sealed up by a fulfillment in which it would reach its end and disappear. This last statement alone is enough to show that we have to do with what is future still.
The angel goes on to give Daniel more in detail the events of these seventy weeks.
"Know, therefore, and understand that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Messiah the Prince, shall be seven weeks and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall even in troublous times." There is no need for our purpose to inquire for the exact beginning of this time. We are not tracing exactly its fulfillment. It is enough for us that the prophecy itself assures us that at the end of sixty-nine weeks, Messiah shall come. The weeks must be weeks of years, therefore, as almost all orthodox commentators agree, - all, in fact, who recognize in them any real specification of time at all. And with year-weeks the Jews were, as we know, perfectly familiar. The whole period is thus ten jubilees.
Four hundred and eighty-three years, then, from the commencement of this period Messiah comes, and but seven years remain in which the full blessing should come in. It is this which has doubtless stumbled many as to the fulfillment to Israel and Jerusalem which the first words of the angel yet so clearly promise. Startling it is to have to recognize a break of over eighteen centuries in a period of time which seems so strictly defined. The next verse, however, prepares us for this, and accounts for it. Messiah comes to His own, and His own receive Him not. Thus the blessing is delayed, although, of course, the purposes of God are unrepenting.
"And after the threescore and two weeks " - as the Hebrew reads, - " shall Messiah be cut off, and shall have nothing:" so rightly the margin and the R. V. give. Instead of reception by a willing people, He finds rejection and a cross, does not therefore yet receive the promises. The city is not restored, but desolated: "And the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary." All agree here that there is the destruction of the city by the Romans; most, therefore, assume that Titus is the "prince that shall come," but against this there are many reasons. For why in this case should the people be mentioned at all? Would it not be enough to say that the prince shall destroy - it being a matter of course that it would be through his people? Is it not plain that while the people and the prince are both emphasized for us, it is the people alone that are said to do this, only they are the people of the prince that shall come?
What importance attaches to Titus that he should be given this prominence, and in so concise a prophecy, in which every word seems measured out with greatest economy? Certainly no where else does he appear at all. Why, too, the "prince that shall come" against the city? but this would be strange tautology for the word of God! Of course if he were a leader of the host he would come against the city. But the expression is the very one which would be used to point out some great person predicted to arise, of whom Daniel had heard before. But there is another mark attached to this person: "And his end shall be in the flood." Here our common version has indeed "the end thereof." But the end of what then? Not of the destruction of the city? Not of the city, for this is feminine in Hebrew, and would not agree with the pronoun. Not of the sanctuary, which could not be detached from the city in this way. Moreover, the article with flood - "the flood," as it should be - speaks again of some definite and known catastrophe. The whole passage is to be regarded as sorne relative clause, and connected with "shall come:" "the people of the prince that shall come and find his destruction in the flood." (Keil.)
This, of course, it is impossible to apply to Titus. Let us see how it does, in fact, apply. The "people of the prince that shall come" we know historically as the Romans; the fourth beast or empire of the seventh chapter, it is conceded by the mass of interpreters, and susceptible of the most abundant proof, was also Roman. And now, looking at the prophetic history of the empire, surely it is not difficult to recognize in the little horn, whose actions bring judgment upon the beast, the prince that shall come whose end is in the flood. The closing statements in the chapter seem as if they should make doubt as to this really impossible. We return for a moment, however, to what characterizes the rest of the period. The R.V. renders it well: "And even unto the end shall be war; desolations shall be determined." The last verse of the prophecy now gives us, in connection with the doings of this little horn, the last of the seventy weeks: "And he shall confirm a covenant with the many for one week; and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease; and on account of the wing of abominations there shall be a desolator; even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate."
I have made in the translation some small and yet important alterations, which will be justified as we proceed. The first point to notice is that the last week is here divided in half, and that a half week of years - three and a half years - gives us another link which seems decisive with the history of the little horn. For "a time, times, and the dividing of a time" are times and laws given into the hands of this blasphemous and persecuting power, and here he causes sacrifice and oblation to cease for what is evidently this very period. This surely is a striking example of how times and laws have been given into his hands. And as the whole seventy weeks are determined upon Israel and Jerusalem., we see that the sacrifices must have been restored there. This naturally carries us back to the previous clause: "He shall confirm a covenant with the many for one week." It is not the covenant but a covenant: the definite article, misplaced here, has made people think of God's Covenant with His people, and thus given aid to a false conception of its being Messiah that confirms it. But the antecedent to the pronoun "he" is certainly "the prince that shall come" as every other mark points in the same direction. On the other hand the article does stand before "many," making it "the many," - i.e., the mass of the Jewish people. The covenant becomes thus a political agreement with the mass of the Jewish nation for seven years; but in the week he breaks it, changes times and laws, and his tyranny begins.
Why he makes sacrifices and oblation to cease is easily seen from the seventh chapter. Every detail fits in the most exact way possible. The little horn speaks great words against the Most High, and wears out the saints of the Most High. It is as sacrifice to God that he stops the Jewish service. And in perfect agreement we read here: "And on account of the wing of abominations there shall be a desolator." This is quite literal, as our common version is not. The R. V. differs from it by translating "upon the wing," which is the more usual rendering of the pronoun, my own being simply the equivalent of "for" in that with which we are familiar, "For the protection of idols" is, I do not doubt, the sense sufficiently. A desolator comes in consequence of idolatry introduced, and this lasts until the decreed time expires - until the full end of the seventy weeks.
Notice another point where the seventh chapter not only confirms but explains the ninth. We have seen that the latter declares that at the end of the determined time the blessing comes for Israel. But the details of the seventy weeks show nothing but disaster and evil, right down to their expiration. How the blessing comes it does not show; but this the seventh chapter already supplies. The horn prevails against the saints for the three and a half times or years of either prophecy; but this is "till the Ancient of Days" comes (v. 22), which in a moment changes all. Let the reader only turn to Zech. xiv., and see how, in the very midst of Israel's distress, the Lord appears: "For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city." And why? "Then shall the Lord go forth and fight against those nations as when He fought in the day of battle. And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with Thee."
We see, then, how, as in a moment, the desolation ends.
There is entire harmony thus far, and this in itself is one of the most convincing arguments for the truth of that which unites and harmonizes these different statements. But we have not yet completed the review of Daniel's testimony, for in the final prophecy (chap. x. - xii.) we have what again in the clearest way supplements and confirms what has been gathered from the previous ones. We take it indeed from the long prophetic history with which it is connected, as yet not able even to glance at this, but trusting to the clearness of its own evidence for the relation it bears to what we have just been looking at "And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that mak.eth desolate" (chap. xi. 31).
"And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and swore by Him that liveth forever that it shall be for a time, times, and a half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.
"And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand, two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waiteth and cometh to the thousand, three hundred and five and thirty days. But go thou thy way until the end be, for thou shalt rest and stand in thy lot at the end of the days" (chap. xii. 7, 11 - 13).
Here it is clear that we have an equal period to the time, times, and a half, if taken as three and a half years, as we have already taken them; that first thirty and then forty- five days more are added successively to this period; the twelve hundred and ninety days date from the setting up of the abomination, and therefore we may conclude that the twelve hundred and sixty also do this; and that at the end of the longest period Daniel stands in his lot, implying surely that the resurrection of the saints has taken place. Thus all of these dates are connected with the end as were the former ones - with the coming of the Lord, and the setting up of His kingdom.
And the taking away the daily sacrifice and setting up the abomination of desolation which is connected with these dates, interprets clearly the causing sacrifice and oblation to cease, and the desolation on account of the wing of abomination, of the ninth chapter. It is a confirmation of what has already been our conclusion from the previous prophecy alone, which one may well believe irresistible to any unprejudiced mind. And yet it is far from all that Scripture has to give us with regard to a period to which evidently it attaches the very greatest importance.
(2) Prophecies of the New Testament
What we have gathered, then, from these different prophecies is this : -
1. That the times of the Gentiles - of the Gentile empires - are closed in sudden overthrow by the kingdom of God established in the hands of One who, as Son of Man, comes in the clouds of heaven.
2. That the last form of Gentile power, - the Roman, - ends in blasphemous opposition to God and to His saints - opposition which brings the judgment down.
3. That this opposition displays itself in a special way in connection with the Jews, who, in the security of a covenant with the last head, have re-established their temple-worship at Jerusalem. Three and a half years from the end - a half-week of years - he breaks this covenant, causes the worship of Jehovah to cease, and replaces it by an idolatry which brings in desolation, a scourge from God, lasting until this period expires.
Deliverance for the saints, and the end of Gentile dominion, come together with the sudden appearance of the Lord from heaven.
In all this the simple comparison of scripture with scripture has set aside the need of any laboured interpretation. The time, times, and dividing of a time of the little horn's prevalence (Dan. vii.) correspond so in every feature with the last half week of the seventy in chap. ix., and the time, times, and a half of the twelfth chapter, that to force them asunder would seem almost manifest perversion. The successive prophecies agree with the preceding ones in the most perfect way, while adding each something of its own. The one mind of the Spirit runs evidently through them all.
We are now going to add in the same manner some New- Testament prophecies to the Old, and see if still Scripture will not speak for itself, and become its own interpreter, - if as definite certainty cannot be reached as to the main features of unfulfilled prophecy as with regard to any other part of inspired testimony.
And the first passage we naturally take up proclaims its own connection with what we have been looking at in Daniel. I refer, of course, to the great prophecy of Matt. xxiv. Read in the light of the prophecies to which it refers, it becomes as clear and intelligible as can be.
The Lord has announced to His disciples the impending overthrow of the temple. They thereupon put two questions to Him, which in their minds were no doubt more closely connected than they would be in ours: "Tell us when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the age?"
As to the first question, which of course refers to the destruction of the temple, we have little to do with it just now. The answer will be found more fully given in Luke xxi., in which the destruction of Jerusalem., which took place more than thirty-five years afterward, is explicitly announced. In Matthew it will be found that the Lord deals rather with the second, double question, where they seem evidently to identify the coming of the Lord with "the end of the age" - for "world" it is not, either here or in the thirteenth chapter, where the same expression is to be found. Literally, it is the "consummation of the age."
Now, remembering Daniel, and that these were Jewish questioners, with at present none but Jewish hopes, but owning Jesus as their Messiah, - with no thought of the long interval which was in fact to elapse before His still future coming, it is plain that the age of which they spoke was the age of law - of Judaism as it then was. Of a Christian dispensation they could have no thought. The "coming" of which they spoke was doubtless connected with, if not derived from, the coming of the Son of Man of which Daniel had spoken. The "end of the age" we have found portrayed there in fact, in terms to which the Lord refers; but while they would necessarily think of it as the end of a Jewish age, most Christians would as naturally from their stand-point think of it as Christian.
For us, Judaism is gone forever, and it is a strange thing to speak of its revival; yet we have seen that Daniel shows us a week of special divine dealings with Judah and Jerusalem., cut off from the sixty-nine preceding by an unknown interval in which plainly Christianity has prevailed. And in this last week we find the temple- services again going on until their interruption by the head of Gentile power.
It is to this interruption the Lord refers, directly citing Daniel: "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand;) then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains; let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house; neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes." In Luke, where the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans eighteen centuries ago, is prophesied, while the same injunction to flee to the mountains is given, the sign is different - " Jerusalem compassed with armies;" and these latter directions are omitted, - they would be plainly out of place. No such rapid and instant flight as is here spoken of was needed to escape the desolating hosts. It is merely therefore said, "Let them which are in Jud~a flee to the mountains, and let them which are in the midst of it depart out, and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto." But here, the enemy is in the midst, the saints are the objects of special enmity, and there must be no delay: "And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days; but pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day." Here it is plain that Jews under the full rigor of Jewish law are contemplated.
And now comes another reference to Daniel. In his last prophecy we find that "at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince that standeth for the children of thy people; and there shall be time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book." (Chap. xii. i.)
Thus it is the great day of Jewish deliverance which is at hand, and they are delivered out of a time of unequaled trouble. The Lord's words echo and emphasize the words of Daniel: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, - nor ever shall be. And except those days shall be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened."
The precise time of the tribulation is given by the OldTestament prophet - three years and a half; and we see by the Lord's words that it is impossible to apply here the year-day theory, which would extend it to twelve hundred and sixty years. This certainly would not be shortening the days in any sense. He follows with the announcement of false Christs and false prophets as characterizing this period, - an addition to the Old Testament of the greatest significance, and which we shall find developed in succeeding prophecies: "Then, if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe him not. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, He is in the desert! go not forth; Behold, He is in the secret chambers! believe it not. For, as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be. For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together."
As in Daniel also, it is by this coming that the time of trouble is closed: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."
For our purpose, it is not necessary to go further. The agreement with former prophecies is clear and conclusive. A latter-day remnant is seen in Jerusalem., distinctly Jewish in character, yet listening to Christ's words, and owned of God; and the end of the age of which the disciples inquire is identified with the broken-off last week of Daniel's seventy. The temple is again owned as "the holy place," though in the meanwhile defiled with idolatry, and this before the Lord's coming in the clouds of heaven. We necessarily ask ourselves, Where, then, is Christianity? and what does this presence once more of a Jewish "age" imply as to the present Christian dispensation?
To this, Scripture gives no undecided answer. It shows us that the Christian dispensation (properly so called,) is over then; that the Church, Christ's body, is complete; that all true Christians have been caught up to Christ, and are with Him; that the rest of the professing church has been spewed out of His mouth, according to His threatening to Laodicea; that the Lord is now taking up again for blessing His people Israel and the earth, and we are again in the line of Old-Testament prophecy, and going on to the fulfillment of Old-Testament promises. That these promises belong to Israel, literally, - His kinsmen according to the flesh, - we have the unexceptionable witness of the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. ix. 4), who also warns the Gentile professing body, that they stand only by faith, and if they abide not in the goodness of God which He has shown them, shall be cut off; and Israel, abiding not in unbelief, should be graffed back again into her own olive-tree. He tells us also that this receiving of them back shall be "life from the dead" to the nations of the world; that blindness in part is happened unto Israel., only till the fullness of the Gentiles is come in; and then all Israel - the nation asa whole - shall be saved. And he adds that while, as regards the gospel, they are [treated by God asj enemies for our sakes, as touching the election they are yet beloved for the father's sakes; because the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. (Rom. xi. 13 - 29.)
Thus the wonderful change which Matt. xxiv. exhibits is fully accounted for. The Jews and Judaism once more owned, shows that the Christian "gospel," having completed its full gathering of Gentiles as designed by God, is going out no longer. Heaven (though we must make a certain exception which we shall by and by consider,) - heaven is full. The gathering for earth and blessing there is now commencing.
The Lord has spoken of false Christs and false prophets in connection with that time. Let us turn now to the apostle John's description of Antichrist. He warns us indeed that already in his time there were many; already there was the character of the "last time." He speaks of them as apostates, issuing from the professing church itself, never really Christians, though among them. (1 Jno. ii. r8, 19.) But he goes on to describe one special form, "the liar," "the antichrist," as his words really are. "Who is the liar," he asks, "but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?" And then he adds, "He is the antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son." (v. 22.) It will be found that there are here two forms of unbelief, which in this wicked one unite in one. The first is the Jewish one that denies that Jesus is the Christ. They do not detly that there is a Christ, but they deny Jesus to be this. The full Christian belief is not only that Jesus is the Christ, but that He is also the Son of the Father. "Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father," - there are many of these now, as the Unitarians so called; but they deny the Son to make much of the Father: the full climax of unbelief in this great head of it is here, that he denieth both the Father and the Son.
Thus the antichrist denies Christianity altogether; but he owns Judaism, for the very denial that Jesus is the Christ implies, however, that there is Christ. And this is the complete antichrist, who is not only against Christ, but takes His place. And so the Lord speaks of "false Christs." These are, by profession, then, Jews, and the antichrist is a Jew.
How naturally the antichrist belongs, then, to a time when Christianity is gone from the earth, and a revived Judaism is in its old seat, and they are in expectation (as almost necessarily they would be,) of the speedy fulfillment now of the promise of Messiah. When the Lord came in the flesh, there was just such an expectation, and just such fruit of it in the appearance of false Christs. And the words in Matthew show that such a time there will be again; only now with a peculiar power of deception which only tl1e elect escape. Among these blasphemous pretenders is the full prophetic antichrist.
Let us turn to another picture, which the apostle puts before the Thessalonians. (2 Thess. 1. 1 - 12.) Here we shall find what unites John and Matthew, connecting the developed evil of apostate Christendom with the revival of Judaism which the Lord's own words foreshow. And I quote from the Revised Version, which is in many respects an improvement upon the common one: - "Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him, to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is now present: let no man beguile you in any wise; for it will not be except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshiped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God.... For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work, only there is one that restraineth now until he be taken out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of His mouth, and bring to naught by the manifestation of His coming: even he whose coming is according to the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders, and all deceit of unrightousness for them that are perishing; because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
Thus the solemn end of Christendom is revealed. And already in the apostle's days the leaven of evil was at work, which but for a divine restraint upon it would before this have permeated the whole mass of profession. But the apostasy will come, if even now rather it is not begun, of which the issue and final head will be this lawless one, who will sweep away with him to common ruin all that receive not the love of the truth. They will believe a lie - literally, it is "the lie," - and "who is the liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?" He opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or worshiped: certainly therefore "denieth the Father and the Son." But not only so: he sitteth in the temple of God., setting himself forth as God." How can we forbear to think of that abomination of desolation standing in the holy place, which the Lord has called our attention to from Daniel?
But here is a notable instance of the need we have of the apostle's warning that "no prophecy of the Scripture is to be interpreted by itself." To those rooted in the idea that Judaism is gone forever, and that the Christian Church is now the only " temple of God.," what more natural and necessary than to interpret thIs of the pope? Nor do I for a moment say that he is not in the direct line of development; prophecy has oftentimes these incomplete anticipative fulfillments, which answer for the full and exhaustive one which is to come. But in the light of all that has preceded, we may be quite sure that any application to the head of Catholicism is only partial and anticipative. Popery has existed for too many centuries to be a sign of the coming day of the Lord; and one sitting as God in the temple of God is too simply explicative of the abomination of desolation in the holy place to make the application difficult or doubtful.
This wicked one, like the little horn of the fourth beast, finds his end also at the coming of the Lord. I do not mean by this that they are the same person, for they are not; but they belong to the same time, and are closely connected. Thus, then, the New l'estament agrees perfectly with the Old in its representation of the end of the age. But we have not examined yet its fullest and most decisive testimony, which we find, just where we would expect to find it, in the book of Revelation. But of this we propose a more extended examination; and we have been gathering together the Scripture-testimony elsewhere only as introductory to this which lies before us. May the Lord Himself direct our inquiries and govern our hearts by the truth of His Word. It is not a mere intellectual study that we propose. We seek to have for our souls the spiritual power of what is unseen, - the future as light for the present, - the judgment of the Lord in the day of the Lord, in order to self-judgment now, - the joy of heaven for present communion. May He who alone can purge from our sight the dullness and drowsiness that so cling to us, our eyes anointed with His eye-salve, that we may see!
The Throne in Heaven
(Rev. iv 1-3.)
We come, then, to our theme, the book of Revelation. Our glance at prophecy has been for the purpose of putting this last and fullest of all in connection with the earlier ones, that we might not make it of "private interpretation." And when we come so to connect it, we find unmistakable evidence that a large part of the book is occupied with that predicted last week of Daniel, the events of which we have been considering. That the last "beast" of Daniel appears again in Rev. xiii. and xvii. is acknowledged, and must be, by all. But there is noticed as to it here, what history has made plain to us, that it was not to continue without interruption from its first commencement to its overthrow. It was to have its period of non-existence, and then come up again in greatly altered character as "from the bottomless pit." This is the blasphemous form in which we have seen it to end at the coming of the Lord; and the exact time of its prevalence in this way is given us as in Daniel - "forty and two months," or three years and a half (chap. xiii. 5). And again and again this period confronts us. In the eleventh chapter, we find it as the time of sackcloth testimony of the two witnesses; in the twelfth chapter, stated as in Daniel, as "time, times, and a half," and again as "a thousand, two hundred, and threescore days," as that of the woman's nourishment in the wilderness from the face of the serpent. Much before this also we hear of an immense company of Gentiles as "come out of the great tribulation" (chap. vii. i2, R. V.) - quite evidently that spoken of in Daniel and in Matthew, the only one that could be, in view of what is said there, announced as "the great" one. Thus from the seventh to the seventeenth chapters the last of the seventy weeks is clearly before us. But this implies, as we have seen, much. It shows that when this large portion of Revelation shall be fulfilled, the Christian Dispensation will have passed away, Christians will be forever with the Lord, and the earthly people will be again those owned of Him, whatever the sorrows they may have yet to pass through, before their full blessing comes.
The appearing of the Lord in the clouds of heaven we find only in the nineteenth chapter, but then (as the apostle says,) "we shall appear with Him in glory" (Col. iii. 4). Our removal from the earth will therefore necessarily have taken place before: and thus he writes to the Thessalonians, that "the Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord" (1 Thess. iv. 16,17).
Here it is plain how "those that sleep in Jesus God will bring with Him." There is no promiscuous resurrection of the dead; there is no picking out by judgment of sheep from goats, such as the twenty-fifth of Matthew very plainly teaches will take place when the Son of Man comes in His glory and be sitting on the throne of His glory. Here, on the contrary, we find but one company of raised and glorified saints caught up to meet and be with Him. Scripture is clear as to this blessed fact, which in itself affirms and emphasizes the gospel assurance that those who have Christ's word, and believe on Him who sent Him, shall not come into judgment. (Jno. v. 24, R. V.) This is, by such a text, made clear and certain enough.
But from this no one would understand that between this gathering up of the saints to meet the Lord and His appearing in glory with them there should be an interval of months and years of earthly history. Nor can one be blamed, therefore, for being slow to assent to such a statement as this. Yet it is the truth ; and one which can be perfectly well established from Scripture, although there is no single text which states it. And here is the place to give this some final consideration.
We have seen elsewhere that as the Old Testament ends with the promise of the "Sun of Righteousness," so the New Testament ends with that of the "Morning Star." Christ Himself is both, and in both His coming is intimated, but, as is plain, in very different connections. The sun brings the day, flooding the earth with light, and this is in suited connection with the blessing of an earthly people, whose the Old Testament promises are (Rom.ix.4). The morning-star heralds the day, but does not bring it: it rises when the earth is still dark, shining as it were for heaven alone. And this to us speaks of our being with Christ before the blessing for the earth comes.
In the promise to Philadelphia also we find the assurance, "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I will also keep thee out of the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." Here, out of a universal hour of trial some saints at least are to be kept. How simply explicable this in their being taken out of the world to be with their Lord before the hour commences! how difficult to understand in any other way!
Accordingly, in those pictures of the world's trial which we have had before us, we have had no trace of the presence of Christians. All, as we have seen, speaks of Jews and Judaism as once more recognized, - a thing inconsistent with the existence of Christians and Christianity at the same time. As long as the present gospel goes out, "they are enemies for your sakes." (RonI. xi. 28.)
So also the antichristian snare, in the form it assumes, shows the same thing. Christ is looked for in the desert, or in the secret chambers, as appearing not from heaven, but in the midst of the people; and the false Christ, when he comes, sits with divine honours in the temple of God. Explicitly is it stated also in Isa. lx., that when the Lord arises upon Israel., and His glory is seen upon them, "darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples," a thing impossible if Christianity existed at the same time, yet perfectly plain in what we have been looking at. Indeed, the difficulty with these passages has been to realize the fact of such darkness as succeeding the present day of gospel light.
Again, the important scene in Matt. xxv. so misconceived by most interpreters even now, and for centuries taken as a picture of the general judgment, becomes thus perfectly intelligible, as it is only consistent with this view. It is the judgment of the living upon earth, after the Lord has come and set up His throne here; and the passage in Thessalonians, cited but a while ago, makes it absolutely certain that Christians will not be among the nations upon earth then. The dead are not in question either. There is no hint of resurrection, and they have their separate judgment, at the end of the thousand years of blessing, when the earth and heaven flee away from before the face of Him that sits upon the throne (Rev. xx. 12).
But if the Lord called up the saints to meet Him in the air, and then immediately came on to the judgment of the earth, there could be no "sheep" to put upon His right hand. Universal judgment alone could follow. The fact of an interval between these two, such as we have been considering, at once clears the whole difficulty.
But the most convincing proofs of such an interval we find in the chapters that are now to engage our attention. Coming as they do between the history of the dispensation with which the addresses to the churches have already made us familiar, and the prophecies of the last week of Daniel, which follow so promptly and occupy so much space in the latter portion of the book. All through the later addresses the announcement of the Lord's coming sounds with more and more urgency. In Thyatira, for the first time, they are exhorted, "Hold fast till I come." In Sardis., He is coming upon them as a thief, and they shall not know what hour He comes upon them. In Philadelphia., it is now, "I come quickly." And finally, Laodicea is ready to be spued out of His mouth, the last individual appeal being given, when the church as a whole has now rejected Him. In the fourth chapter, the "things that shall be after these" begin, and the apostle is at once caught up to heaven. But we are now to proceed more leisurely. In so precious and wonderful a communication of divine grace we would gladly ponder every word, and allow nothing to escape us. But we are absolutely dependent upon the Spirit of God for aid, lest, after all, the very essence of them be lost. The various and contradictory interpretations that they have received may well teach us self-distrust, but not shake our confidence, that in proportion to our real simplicity and real desire to be taught of God, His truth will be discovered to us. He that seeks shall find. He will not for bread give us a stone, nor for a fish a serpent.
The "things that are" have come to an end. The voice that spake on earth is silent, but presently resumes from heaven. "After these things, I saw, and, behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice which I heard, as of a trumpet speaking with me, saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must come to pass after these.'
Both the Common and the Revised Version have "hereafter." But this is vague. It would allow the prophecy that follows to be, after all, contemporaneous in its fulfillment with that of the addresses just completed. But the words are definite, and allow of no such idea. In the first chapter, the apostle had been bidden to "write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which shall be after thea;" and now he is reminded that he is come to this distinct division of his prophecy - "the things which must come to pass after these." The prophecy is orderly and successive, at least thus far. Looking at the addresses to the churches, therefore, as depicting the phases of the professing church during the present dispensation, the meaning of the words would be, "The things which must come to pass after the history of the Church is ended." If, then, such an interpretation of the two previous chapters is correct, the time we have reached is clearly enough defined. And how significant, at this point, the translation of the seer from earth to heaven! The voice with its trumpet-call is the first voice which he had heard - the voice of Jesus. No longer occupied with His lamps of testimony upon earth, He calls His servant up to Himself above. And "immediately," he says, "I became in the Spirit." The distinctness of the new beginning is evident. Just so had he been, rapt in this ecstatic state, when he had had the former vision. It had not continued throughout, but now began afresh, his whole being absorbed in that which the Spirit of God communicated. He is, as it were, not in the body, as another apostle says of visions that he had received, that whether he was in the body or out of the body, he. could not tell. (2 Cor. xii. 2): the Spirit & God was, so to speak, eyes and ears and all else to him. And now by the Spirit he is rapt into heaven, - a new thing for a prophet, and as such, exceptional to John alone. Doubtless the heavens had opened before, even in Old-Testament times, though with reserve, and never to invite an entrance. Enoch, and afterward Elijah, had been taken there indeed, and comfort and blessing it was to know this. Still this was not an opening of it to men on earth. Heavenly visitants had appeared too among men, but they had no disclosures to make of the unseen sanctuary from which they came. Even in Job one might read also how the "sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them." And Micaiah at a much later day could say, "I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him, on His right hand and on His left." Ezekiel, moreover, after this, that "the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God." All this betokened, indeed, heaven's interest in earth, but it only serves to make evident the contrast with what we find here - a witness taken into heaven to bear testimony of what he found there.
The opening of the heavens is characteristic of New-Testament times. At the outset, the heavens are indeed, in the truest sense, opened when the Son of God lies in the manger of Bethlehem. And as He who reveals the Father is revealed, we are brought into communion with what spiritually constitutes heaven - with the Father and the Son. At the Lord's death, the vail of the sanctuary is rent asunder for us, and when He has ascended up, our Representative and Forerunner, the Holy Ghost sent down becomes in us the witness and earnest of heavenly things. But the earnest shows that we have not yet possession, which John anticipatively brings us into. Paul also had been caught up into the third heaven - into paradise - and heard unspeakable things, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. (2 Cor. xii. 4.) But John finds utterance: he carries his writer's inkhorn into heaven, and reports what it was he saw there. He is bidden "Write," lest in his entrancement he should forget it. And how has the power of these communications been felt by those who have become heirs since to what has been thus written! Even those that have known least, have they not felt much? And how much more, then, should flow from deeper knowledge!
But then the character of this prophecy before us, in the very charm of its face-to-face vision, may assure us of what it speaks of and anticipates. It is our own call home this call of the prophet up to heaven, and how well it may thrill our hearts and gladden them as we listen to it!
Enter, then! Heaven is before us. Enter! It is the sanctuary. Not speculation do we seek, but enjoyment - holy and hallowing enjoyment. Not a thing here forbidden to us, and not a thing upon which the lusts of the flesh can fasten! To breathe this pure air, is to live indeed. To abide here is to make all the world can proffer an unmeaning emptiness, to brighten the dullest heart into glory, and make the tongue of the dumb to sing for joy.
Heaven! And the first thing the apostle sees is "a throne," and "One sitting on the throne." It is the first necessity for all blessing, for, all stability, for all rest of heart. It is the assurance of order, of peace, of concord, of congruity: over all, a real, personal, living, and sovereign God. Not a democracy, but an absolutism; not laws which execute themselves, but the will of the All-wise, All-holy: fixed rule in free hands. It is this that sin would have overturned, and which has proved itself impossible to be overturned; whose eternity alone insures the absolute security of all else. Well may all crowns be cast before this throne, by which all are sustained and served. The sovereignty of God is surely the joy and triumph of every redeemed soul.
He who sits upon the throne is not and cannot be pictured, and the jasper and sardine stone to which He is compared have as yet yielded but little to the interpreter. As jewels, like those of the high-priest's breastplate, they represent, no doubt, the "Lights and Perfections" (Urim and Thummim) of God, unchanging, but seen, not in the inapproachable light itself, but in manifestations such as can be given to His creatures, and which display to them a various beauty they could not otherwise enjoy. "God is light," and the "Father of Lights." The one colourless beam, broken up into the various coloured prismatic rays, clothes the whole earth with its beauty. And the precious stones enshrine and crystallize these various rays.
If the "jasper" here be rather the diamond, as many believe, then there does seem to be in it a most appropriate thought, and one it is hard to give up after having received it. The diamond is the brightest of gems, the nearest to the pure ray of light in its lustre, the most indestructible in character, - eminently fitted (as one might think) to be a symbol of the glory of Deity. But these are not its chief points of significance after all. The diamond is, as every one knows, but crystallized carbon, which we find in a pure form as graphite, the black-lead of our pencils. Carbon exists in these so opposite conditions, the symbol of divine glory (as it might be) on the one hand might on the other be that of evil and ruin and sin. And has not divine grace wrought in the transformation of our ruined humanity into the brightest display of divine glory? And could there be any thing of which we could be more fitly reminded here?
God has forever displayed Himself in Christ, His perfect and glorious manifestation. He is "the effulgence of His glory, the express image of His substance." (Heb. i. 3.) It is not meant by that, what some have argued from it, that we shall see the Father only in Him. Scripture speaks of those who "in heaven always behold the face of the Father who is in heaven." (Matt. xviii. io.) But the cross will not on that account lose its significance, nor the glory of the incarnate Son be the less needful for us.
And when we look on to the end of the book, and see the "city which hath foundations" in her eternal beauty, not only do we find the jasper as the first of these foundations, but the light - the lustre - of the city also is "like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal." (xxi. ii.)
This is at least all perfectly consistent. Its consistency and beauty may well plead for its acceptance by us, until, at least, something that more commends itself can be produced. Carbon is also the element characteristic of all organic products; so that organic chemistry has been called "the chemistry of the carbon compounds." It is thus connected with living forms, whether vegetable or animal. And I add, though this be a distinct thought, that crystallization Is, as It were, the organization of the mineral.
The "sardine stone," or rather "sardius," is our camehan, a stone much prized by the lapidary, and especially in the east, its most valued form being an unmixed bright red. The association with the jasper or diamond would suggest an association of thought; the diamond flashing with the red hues of the carnelian would necessitate almost the idea of the cross. Incarnation and redemption unite to make known the sovereign God.
It is not an objection, I believe, that in the next chapter we find explicitly the Lamb slain. The connection there is different, and God is never weary of Christ. Here it is the One upon the throne who is declared; and apart from Christ He could not be declared to us. The full radiance of divine glory are thus in the jasper and the sardine stone, or, as we have taken them to be, the diamond and the carnelian. The connection of the two throws light upon each, and the truth of its interpretation must rest on its verisimilitude.
Thus the One who sits upon the throne is declared to us. It is the "God of our Lord Jesus Christ," perfectly known and alone revealed in Him. The throne is His throne; the supreme will and power are His: and this is what makes us delight in that supremacy. Absolute in power and control, there is no mere arbitrary will in Him. Omnipotence never acts but with omniscient wisdom, perfect righteousness, holiness, and love. His pleasure is good pleasure: "Worthy art Thou, O Lord," is the adoring cry of the hosts of heaven.
The One who sits upon the throne is disclosed and characterized for our hearts before the throne is. And when we come now to the throne itself, we find as the first thing, what is addressed to our hearts no less, "a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald." The natural and historical associations here are full of precious suggestions. The bow we all know as the token of God's covenant with the earth, and with every creature in it. The flood had just passed over the earth and desolated it, and now the sun was shining out in the retreating storm of judgment. God declares He will no more destroy, as He had destroyed. If He bring a cloud, it shall be for purification and blessing, not any more "a flood to destroy all flesh." Where we see it now, the bow is used symbolically, of course, and therefore with a wider, deeper meaning. It is still of the earth it speaks, where alone storms are purificatory and for blessing; but these are no longer merely natural. It is not limited to this or that divine act, but characterizes the throne in its general action. Blessing for men, and rest of which the emerald speaks, with the suggestion of the springing grass after the rain, are to be accomplished; even the judgment maybe the necessary means of their accomplishment. And in this, too, God will manifest Himself in the glory of the light which He is, as the prismatic colours of the bow symbolically display it.
To those who realize the character of the period which follows the present one, nothing could be plainer than the language of this bow-encircled throne. God is now calling out for heaven the objects of His grace. And while He is doing this, the fulfillment of His promises as to the earth is suspended; the earthly people are set aside: it might seem as if He had forgotten that which fills the pages of the Old-Testament prophets. So much so, that as if in despair of their accomplishment, men would turn them all into figures of other things. The knowledge of dispensational truth, so little regarded even yet by most Christians, relieves the whole difficulty, and puts every thing into its own place. Ours is a heavenly calling; ours are "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." When we are, according to His promise, gathered up to Him, then the Old-Testament promises will be fulfilled to Israel, to whom they belong (Rom. ix. 4), and the predicted time will come when the "earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Heb. ii. 14.) For this the "sons of God," now in suffering and sorrow, must be revealed in glory when Christ our life shall appear, and we shall appear with Him in glory. "The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation should itself also be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God."
(Rom. Viii. 19 - 21, R.V.) The bow of promise for creation, girdling the throne of God in heaven, speaks, then, of God's covenant with the earth remembered in a way which goes far beyond the letter of it. He is going now to bring it into perpetuity of blessing through another judgment, in which His glory will be displayed in a peculiar way. It will soon be said among the nations that the Lord reigneth, and the world be established that it cannot be moved. "Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof. Let the field exult, and all that is therein; then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy before the Lord: for He cometh, for He cometh to judge the earth; He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth." (Ps. xcvi. 10 - 13.)
Thrones Around the Throne
(Chap. iv. 4.)
This rainbow-girdled throne is a throne of judgment: "Out of the throne proceeded lightnings and voices and thunders." Mercy may and does restrain judgment within fixed limits, or use it sovereignly to fulfill purposes of widest, deepest blessing. None the less is it plain that the "throne of grace," to which it is the part of faith now to "come boldly, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need," is not here before us. Even the bow of promise itself speaks of a "cloud over the earth," which might seem to threaten ruin as by another deluge. The promise to Philadelphia warned of an "hour of trial" which was to "come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth," while it assured the overcomers there that the Lord would keep them out of this. And now before the lightnings are seen to issue from the throne, before the peal of judgment startles the world from its security, we find "round about the throne four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment, and on their heads crowns of gold." The promise has been fulfilled, and the "kings and priests" of God are around the throne of God.
That these are "thrones," not seats merely as in the common version, is not contested, so far as I know, by any one. That they are men, not angels, who sit upon them, should be plain by many considerations. Their very title of "elders" speaks for it, and in Israel these were the representatives and rulers of the people. Their number, twenty-four, if to be illustrated by any thing in Scripture, can only be referred to the twenty-four courses into.,which David divided the priesthood. And this reference is confirmed by the priestly actions of these elders in the next chapter (v. 8). They are crowned priests, - "kings and priests," - the "royal priesthood" of which Peter speaks (i Pet. ii. 9). And when they act in that capacity, the angels stand in a separate company outside of them (v. ii).
They are therefore saints, not angels, as the general consent of interpreters acknowledges. There are "thrones" indeed among angelic powers, but no priests: for priesthood speaks of mediation and of sin which requires it, and no provision of this kind is needed by the holy or exists in behalf of the fallen angels. No doubt the angel-priest of the eighth chapter will be urged by some but here it is in behalf of men he offers, and there is but One to whom it belongs to add to the prayers of the saints that which gives them efficacy. Christ, therefore, though presented in a mysterious manner, must be the Priest in this case. Nowhere else in Scripture is there the most distant thought of angelic priesthood.
But if the elders are saints, how are they represented to us in this picture? Not, plainly, as departed spirits, but as glorified beings, raised or changed, and evermore beyond the power of death. Not till Christ gets His human throne do His people get theirs (chap. iii. 21). All rewards proper wait till the day when we shall stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, and receive for the things done in the body (2 Cor. v. io). Thus it is clear that the scene at which we are looking supposes resurrection come, and the voice of the Lord to have called us to Himself. Thus alone could the thrones around the throne be filled.
For the same reason we cannot conceive of any representation here of the position of Christians as now known to and enjoyed by faith. We are indeed "raised up together, and seated together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. ii. 6); but this is a question of acceptance, not of reigning. Christ reigns, it is true, but in no wise has He taken that place as our representative. Seated upon the Father's throne, we are not seated in Him, nor ever shall be with Him there. Thus such a thought is absolutely forbidden to us, as that of a positional application of the vision before us.
More plausible would be the thought of anticipation, - a pledge and assurance for our encouragement of what is to be only at the end enjoyed. Such anticipations there are in the book before us. The multitude out of all nations, who are seen in the seventh chapter as already "come out of the great tribulation," present us, in fact, with such an anticipatory vision. The woman of the twelfth, clothed with the glory of the sun, is in some such features similarly anticipative. Thus the principle is one we cannot refuse, and which must apply in this case. We have only to ask, Is there any thing which in fact would prevent our so applying it?
Now, if we look at the white-robed multitude of the seventh chapter, which is the nearest in resemblance to the vision of the elders, if the latter be anticipative, we find one very marked difference between the two. The former is a complete whole, separated from the other visions which surround it, and not an integral part of the prophetic history. It forms no part of the events of the sixth seal, as it plainly forms none of the seventh, but, with its kindred vision of the Jewish remnant sealed, is inserted parenthetically between them. It interprets the course of the history, rather than forms part of it; and here the moral purpose of the interpretation is quite evident.
But suppose we had found, on the contrary, this company associated with the course of the prophecy throughout; present and worshiping when the Lamb takes the book; interpreting some of the after-visions; mentioned as present when other events take place: should we not look at it as strange and incongruous indeed to be told that it had no existence as such during this very time that it was only anticipatively brought before us, - an encouraging vision, not an actual fact?
Such is the relation of the elders to the prophecy before us until the nineteenth chapter closes with the appearing of the Lord. They sing the song of redemption when the Lamb takes the book; they interpret as to the white-robed multitude; they worship again when the seventh trumpet sounds; in their presence the new song is sung which the one hundred and forty-four thousand alone can learn; and when Babylon the Great is judged, they fall down once more before the throne, saying, "Amen, Hallelujah." It is not till after this that the Lord appears. Thus the elders in heaven are no transient vision, but an abiding reality all through this long reach of prophecy. We must accept the fact of glorified saints enthroned around the throne of God from the commencement of the "things that shall be." With this, many other things are implied of necessity. The descent of the Lord into the air; the resurrection of the dead; the change of the living saints; the rejection of the rest of the (now merely) professing church; the close of the Christian dispensation. All this we have already found in Scripture to take place before the incoming "end of the Jewish age," - the last week of Daniel's seventy. The internal evidence harmonises completely with what is derived from the general consent of prophecy, in proving to us to what point in the dispensations we have here arrived.
Daniel had long before this spoken of thrones around the throne. "I beheld," he says, "till thrones were placed (R.V.), and One that was Ancient of days did sit" (chap. vii. 9). But he can tell us nothing more as to the occupants of these thrones. The earthly, and not the heavenly side is given to him to unfold. John not only shows us the occupants, but his vision antedates that of Daniel, and raises the thrones themselves to a higher elevation. We must pass on to the twentieth chapter of this book to find the scene which the Old-Testament prophet depicts, and there the character of rule is limited every way both as to time and place. "They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." This is earthly rule, and not yet the new earth; but it is just as plainly said of Christ's "servants" in the New Jerusalem, "they shall reign forever and ever." Here the limitation is gone, and the heirs of God, joint-heirs with Christ, are fully manifested.
The idea of a millennial reign, true and scriptural as it is, tends to get too large possession df the thoughts of those often styled "millennarians," a word which answers to the early "chiliasts," - both derived from this "thousand years" of rule. And these, as shown in Papias, Justin, and Irenaus, conceived of it in a Jewish and earthly fashion, seriously conflicting with the Christian's heavenly hope. To this Old-Testament expectation many in the present day have swung round again, and we cannot too earnestly protest against it.
The truth is, that to those whose hope is the millennium, it is quite natural and necessary to go to the Old Testament for their views of it. But then they are in the line of Jewish promises, and an appropriation of these to a greater or less extent is to be looked for. This is the mode in which have been produced some of the most heterodox and evil systems of the day. If we would "rightly divide the Word of God," it can be only by respecting the divisions which the Word itself has established for us. And if we ask ourselves, What has the New Testament to say of the millennium? for how much of our knowledge of it are we indebted to its pages? the answer will be impressive and should be enlightening.
In the New Testament we find, first of all, that it is a millennium, - that is to say, that it is limited as a period. It belongs not to eternity. It precedes the "new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness;" closes with the judgment of the great white throne, and passing away of present things.
It is not, therefore, as so often represented, Sabbathrest, but only the last day of man's work-day week, the last of the probationary dispensations. Its true type is the sixth day of the creative week when man and woman are put at the head of earthly government, and not the seventh day, which God hallows because He can rest. The merest glance at Rev. xx., - the merest reference to the OldTestament prophet, ought to make this so plain that there should be no need to spend another word in its defence.
But what, then, must be the effect of substituting for what is everlasting that which is temporal and transient merely? Certainly, it cannot be a light one. With many, it has perverted the whole future before them, and introduced into it elements destructive to Christianity. To any, it must be hurtful, just in proportion to their occupation with it. For the truth it is that sanctifies. Error demoralizes and despiritualises. How much, if it touch that in which the heart is called to rest, as it were, looking forward and entering into it as that in which God shall rest eternally? What indeed we hope for, we practically reach after, and are controlled and fashioned by it. The New Testament speaks of the binding of Satan during these thousand years, and of the deliverance of creation from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. It speaks also - and this is the positive feature which it adds to the Old-Testament picture, - of the reign of the saints with Christ over the earth. This is expressed in the Lord's promise to the apostles that they should "sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. xix. 28); in the authority given over ten or over five cities (Luke xix. 16 - 19); in the promise of the rod of iron (Rev. ii. 26, 27); and of sitting with the Son of Man upon His throne (iii. 2!). In the twentieth chapter of this book, it is the one thing we find as to the millennium besides the fact of its being such, and the binding of Satan. These things are significant. The New-Testament blessings are "in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. i. 3), and thus the book of Revelation adds but the heavenly side to the earthly picture. It shows us beyond the judgment of the dead the new heavens and earth, and the tabernacle of God with men; and then the prophecy closes with the description of the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city.
The millennial rule, characterized by the rod of iron which dashes in pieces the opposition of the nations, is a special, exceptional kingdom for a great purpose, which being accomplished, it is given up. Christ sits now at the right hand of God until He makes His foes His footstool; and this subjecting of His enemies goes on until death, the last enemy, is subdued. This is preparatory to the judgment of the great white throne, and after this Christ delivers up the kingdom to the Father, that God may be all in all (I Cor. xv. 24 - 28). The special kingdom closes, but this does not and cannot touch the blessed truth that the throne in the heavenly city remains, past all changes, the "throne of God and of the Lamb;" nor this, that "His servants shall serve Him and shall reign forever and ever." The thrones around the throne abide forever. The joint-heirship with Christ - wonder of divine grace as it is - on that very account can be no passing thing. The rod of iron passes away. All that speaks of sin as present passes necessarily. The glory of the grace remains. In the ages to come He will show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus (Eph. ii. 7).
THE LIVING ONES.
(Chap. iv. 5 - 12.)
As I have said, the character of the throne as a throne of judgment is not seen until the saints are seen upon their thrones around it. In fact, we may say, it does not assume this character until they are there. For the "lightnings and voices and thunders" which now proceed from it are plainly not the announcement of any special judgment, but of the throne as a judgment-throne. This entirely accords with the fact that the dispensation of grace is at an end, the Christian Church complete, and with the saints of past ages glorified. On the other hand, when the kingdoms of the earth shall have become the kingdom of Christ., the throne will not be characterized as here it is. Righteousness will reign, but the fruit of it will be peace, and the effect, quietness and assurance forever (Isa. xxxii. 17).
Thus we have in the lightnings and thunders proceeding from the throne neither the attributes of the day of grace nor those of the kingdom of glory, but rather of that interval of time which we have been already considering, in which, God's judgments being upon the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness (Isa. XXVI. 9). The bow of promise encircling the throne tells of the storm when it shall have passed - the effect designed from the beginning.
And before the throne, the seven lamps of fire bear witness of its action as suited to the character of Him who sits upon it. They are the sevenfold energy of the Spirit of God, who ever works out the divine purpose in the creature, whether it be in creation as at the beginning - when He brooded over the waters, or in sanctification - when we are new born of the Spirit, or in resurrection - when the work of grace ends in glory. And these seven spirits rest upon the Branch of Jesse when the government of the earth is put into His hand; "the Spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon Him; the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah; and He shall be of quick understanding in the fear of Jehovah: and He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth; and He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked one" (Isa. XI. 2 - 4). Here is the same perfect character of government. In both we see "man's day" ended and the "day of the Lord" commencing its course. Nor shall its sun ever go down.
Before the throne, also, is "a sea of glass like unto crystal." Before the typical "heavenly places" among the shadows of the law, there stood in Solomon's day a "sea" of water, at which the priests washed their hands and feet before they went in to minister in the sanctuary. But the priests are now gone in; the defilements of earth are over, and there is no longer need of cleansing. The sea is therefore here a sea of glass.
Abiding purity has succeeded to constant purification. No wind can henceforth even ruffle it. The lightnings and thunder cannot disturb its rest, - to it are as if they were not. Thus the elders rest upon their thrones in peace.
Below, we shall find the meaning of the judgment-character assumed by the throne. The conflict between good and evil is nearing its crisis; the power of evil is rearing itself in gigantic forms; open blasphemous defiance of God is succeeding to secret impiety; men are loudly saying, "Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us," and it is time for God to put to His hand, and to meet His adversaries face to face.
As, therefore, the cherubim and the flaming sword united to bar fallen man from paradise, - as, when Israel had reached the limit of divine forbearance, Ezekiel saw the infolding fire and the cherubic forms of judgment, - so now once more, but without the wheels within wheels of providential use of earthly instruments (God not to speak by a Nebuchadnezzar, but in plain wrath from heaven), the cherubim are seen.
"And in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes before and behind. And the first living creature was like a lion, and the second living creature like a calf, and the third living creature had the face as of a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, having each of them six wings, are full of eyes round about and within; and they have no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come."
The living creatures are in the midst of the throne, yet round about it, - identified with it, yet distinct. To picture this, as some have tried to do, may be difficult, and yet the idea involved in it is not difficult at all. The government of God is carried on, as Scripture represents it to us, largely at least, through created instruments. The Old Testament shows us thus angelic ministries in sway over the earth; the New Testament speaks of "thrones and dominions and principalities and powers" (Col. i. i6). They are thus creaturely, yet identified with the divine. Thus were the judges in Israel called "gods," and our Lord says, "He called them gods' unto whom the word of God came" (Jno. x. 35). Here we have the idea which the words as to the living creatures "in the midst of the throne and round about the throne" seem intended to convey.
The "living creatures" certainly show that they are "creatures;" although no stress can be laid upon this word as used by the R. V. here, in place of the objectionable one, "beasts," in the older translation. The Greek word is, "living ones," though generally used as the equivalent of our word, from the Latin, "animal," which literally means the same thing. But the forms are those of the heads of the animal creation, - the lion, of wild beasts; the calf or ox, of cattle; the eagle, of birds; and man, of all. Such symbols could not be - were forbidden to be - used of God Himself. Their six wings are intended, surely, to lead us back to Isaiah's vision of the seraphim, who cry, "Holy, holy, holy," also, just as these; and here "with twain they covered their face, and with twain they covered their feet," the suited reverence of creatures in the presence of God. They are not, then, direct symbols of God Himself.
That they are the angels as a class is more like the truth, as is plain from what we have already seen; yet in the fifth chapter they are broadly distinguished from the angels, who are seen in a separate company round the throne; while, if the elders represent the redeemed, they are in our present one distinguished from these also. That they are a distinct class among the angels has in itself no scriptural probability, though it is the favourite traditional view. That they are symbols can scarcely be doubted; hardly of a race of beings of whom elsewhere we have no trace. Lastly, that they symbolize the Church, as distinct from other bodies of redeemed, is negatived by all the Old-Testament passages.
The view which alone harmonizes all that is conflicting in these is, that they are symbols of that government of God over the earth which may be exercised by angels, will be over the millennial earth by the redeemed associated with Christ Himself. The transition we shall find, in fact, in these very chapters of Revelation; while cherubim were, as we know, upon the tabernacle-vail, which the apostle declares to be the "flesh," or human nature, of Christ (Ex. xxvi. ii; Heb. X. 20).
Hence also - as having reference to the government of the earth - the living creatures are four in number, 4 being significant of earthly completeness, as in the "four corners of the earth." Their six wings speak of restless activity, - perhaps of restraint upon evil, for 6 speaks of this limit imposed by God. The eyes within and around show regard to God - for "within" is toward Him that sits upon the throne - and perfect, not partial, knowledge of things on every side. For the simple complete obedience of the creature would keep it free from displaying the short-sightedness of the creature.
Now, if we look at the appearance of the living creatures themselves, we shall find that each one furnishes us with some view of the divine government which supplements and balances the rest, and that the order also is significant, as in Scripture every thing is. What the Lord teaches us as to every jot and tittle of the law is true no less of the whole inspired Word. How significant that the first form is that of a lion, the symbol of royal and resistless power! This is the first necessity for government, in which feebleness is only another name for failure. Christ's own name in the chapter following is, "Lion of the tribe of Judah.," and when He acts in that character, no one will be able for a moment to resist Him. It will be the most absolute sovereignty that the world has ever seen.
But then, by itself, assuredly, this symbol would mislead. When John looks for the Lion of the tribe of Judah., he sees a "Lamb as it had been slain;" and when even wrath is ready to be poured out upon men, it is spoken of as the "wrath of the Lamb." Indeed, that is what makes it so terrible. It is the wrath of love itself. It is the judgment of One with whom judgment is a "strange work." It is judgment which is so unsparing because love energizes the arm and guides the blow. It is judgment, for which there is no remedy, - which can alone fulfill the counsels of, perfect wisdom and goodness; judgment which prayer cannot be offered to avert, but for which prayer is made and accepted by God.
Slow indeed it has been in coming! So the ages of misrule and evil, of oppression and wrong, would say. So murmur the downtrodden; so scoffs the infidel. The prophet cries, "How long?" The wicked, pursuing his successful wickedness, says, "God hath forgotten: He hideth His face; He will never see it." All are expecting from the government of God the rapid and decisive action which they think alone suited to Him in whose hands all power is.
Hence, the "slow ox" follows the lion here; with strength equal to his, but used how differently! The ox is the symbol of patient labor, and which has man's good for its end. So the apostle uses it (I Cor. ix. 9, io). It is the mystery of apparent slowness that is here explained. "God is not slack, as some count slackness," but in all His government works out unfailingly counsels of wisdom in which man's blessing will surely at last be found. Not in the lion is the highest type of sovereignty. The lion's is brute force at the bidding of impulse merely. The ox works under the control of mind.
But there is more than this, which the next cherub speaks of: for now a human face greets us - "the third living creature had the face of a man." And what strikes us first in this? Not mind merely, though there is mind, and in it lies the power he has - power which both the ox and lion own. But that only completes the thought which we have had already presented. Surely beyond this, and rather than this, what strikes us in a human face in the midst of such surroundings, is its familiarity. Here we have what we can understand in a way we cannot the lion or the ox; and as a symbol of divine government, it forces upon us irresistibly the conviction that in it God seeks to be known by us. Not only is He working out blessing in the end. He is meeting us also now, and giving us to know Himself. He is cultivating intimacy with us. And this every soul of His own can better understand in His personal dealings with himself, than in His ways at large - His public government of the world.
Here in our little world we can find, at least, if we will, how "tribulation worketh patience; and patience experience, and experience hope." Here the darkness and the sorrow, the night and the storm, yield (at least afterward) their "peaceable fruits." Here, if we "go down to the sea in ships, and have" our "business in the deep waters," we but the more "see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep." And how sweetly assuring is this knowledge of a living God, for whose care we are not too little, and from whom no circumstance of our lives, no need of our souls, is hid. Would that we all knew this better, which the most exercised among us knows best! We shall find in it, what this "face of a man" may well prepare us for, that it is not necessarily in great and outof-the-way occurrences that God most manifests Himself. He has here as elsewhere a way of taking up and magnifying what is little by putting Himself into connection with it; and thus (as in all His works) the microscope will convey as much to us, it may be more, than the telescope. For He is every where: "One God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all."
Yet because He is God, there will be that every where which will remind us in whose presence we stand. No where can we escape from the mystery which attends His presence. Nor would we if we realize this as its meaning. A God always comprehensible by us would be only such an one as ourselves: but magnify man into God you cannot. Still there will be the "light inaccessible, which no man can approach unto." Yet this is light, not darkness, and it makes nothing really dark, as men profess; rather in this light we see light, - the knowledge of God illuminates all other things.
And this is what is intimated, I believe, by the last of these living ones : "The fourth living creature was like a flying eagle " - an eagle on the wing. For the "way of an eagle in the air" is one of the four things of which the wise man speaks as "too wonderful" for him (Prov. xxx. x8, 19). And this is to be joined with what the eagle in itself conveys to us as a "bird of heaven," - a type of what is heavenly; especially with its bold, soaring flight, for which the ancients assigned it to the apostle John as his emblem.
Thus, then, these cherubic figures speak to us, and in their praise they celebrate the holiness, power, and unchanging nature of the covenant God. The Old-Testament names, as all the way through this part, come up again. It is this God who is our Father, but not as Father do we find Him here. He is our God, if Father: and as such the elders worship Him. For "whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to Him that sitteth on the throne, to Him that liveth forever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sitteth on the throne, and worship Him that liveth forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honour and power; for Thou hast created all things, and because of Thy will they were, and were created."
How blessed is this worship! The constraint is that of the heart alone: the spirit of praise dictates the praise. They are intelligent, and give the reason of it; not here redemption, but creation. By and by they celebrate redemption also, but one theme does not displace another: all that God is and has done is worthy of Him, and they express their adoration as dependent on the will of Him who, for His glory, had created them. This perpetual worship of heaven is the witness of the perpetual freshness of abiding blessing traced by the happy heart to God as its source. May we learn better on earth this song of praise!
The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
And now, in the right hand of Him that sits upon the throne there is seen a book, or scroll, completely filled with writing, which is, however, as to decipherment, completely hid from sight. It is the book of the future, already and completely foreknown and settled in the divine counsels: no room for any thing to be afterward supplied. Thank God, no tittle of history that the future holds will put omniscience to shame, or show the book of God's counsels to have escaped out of the hand of enthroned omnipotence.
Yet if it remain there, who can penetrate it? The seven seals show it to be absolutely hidden from saint or angel. Let it be proclaimed with a voice mighty enough to reach all the inhabitants of heaven, earth, and the underworld, there is nowhere any answer to the challenge, "Who is worthy to open the book?"
God's counsels imply blessing. It may be indeed through much tribulation - the light checkered with shadows - evening and morning together making up the day. Even so, we name it "day" from the light, not from the darkness. The conflict of good with evil must end in triumph, not in defeat. And who is worthy to proclaim that triumph? Only He who can insure it and carry it out; for this only it is, as we shall see, that opens the book. It is no longer, at the time to which this change brings us, a question of making prophetic announcements, but of manifesting God's purposes by decisive acts of power. True, we are enabled, as having the prophecy, in measure to anticipate what is to come. But that, with all its value for us, is not what we see in this picture. It is not the inditing of a book, nor the uttering of a prophecy, that we have before us, but the opening it by fultillment. Here, then, One alone can be found "worthy" to open it. And though we know well who it is, yet we must note the character in which He is introduced to us.
The prophet weeps because no one is "found worthy to open the book, neither to look thereon. And one of the elders saith unto me, 'Weep not : behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book and the seven seals thereof.'"
This is in complete and striking accord with what we have already seen as to the change of dispensation which the vision shows to be taking place. The time of gathering from heaven being fulfilled, the body of Christ completed, and the saints of the New Testament period caught up with those of former times to meet the Lord in the air, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, long suspended, begins again, and in the forefront of the world's history Israel find their place as of old. The "Lion of the tribe of Judah " here announces One who is taking up once more their cause, to crown it with speedy and entire victory. Power is soon to manifest itself in that sudden outburst of irresistible righteous anger of which the second psalm warns the kings of the earth: "Be wise now, therefore, 0 ye kings! be instructed, ye that are judges of the earth! Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with reverence. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath shall suddenly kindle."
In this title, "Lion of the tribe of Judah.," the whole significance of Jacob's ancient prophecy flashes out. " Judah., thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be upon the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he hath stooped, he hath couched as a lion, and as an old lion, - who shall rouse him up?"
From this we must not disjoin what follows: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah., nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and to him shall the gathering of the people be" (Gen. xlix. 8 - io).
Thus it is Christ that Jacob has in spirit before him, when he sees Judah assuming the lion-character. And when in David it actually rose up for a short time in the predicted manner, the brief glory of his kingdom only foretold and heralded the better glory of Christ's enduring one. And in this way the Lion of the tribe of Judah is not only the "Branch of David," springing out of the cut-down tree, but, as here, the Root also of David, from which David himself derives all real significance.
It is plain, then, that now the appeal of the eightyninth psalm is to be answered. David's throne is to be lifted up from the dust, and Judah 's long-delayed hope is to expand into fruition. Strange is it to think how critics and commentators can, in the Lion of Judak opening the book of God's counsels, see only the general truth of Christ upon the throne of providential government, when it is plain, according to the undoubted reference, that the thought of Judah's Lion is inseparably connected with that of Judah taking the prey, and then couching with a front of power which none will dare to excite: "Judah, thou art a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he hath couched as a lion - who shall rouse him up?"
It is not only ignorance of Scripture, but also of the perfection of Scripture, which operates in these beclouding views of the great prophecy before us, in which every expression, every nicety of utterance, is to be marked and estimated at its worth, because it has worth. If not one jot or one tittle could pass from the law, as the Lord Himself declared, till all were fulfilled, how impossible, then, for prophecy to have an irrelevant jot or tittle which can be safely disregarded ! Go on, with this character that Christ has now assumed present in the mind, and is it strange or doubtful what can be meant by the sealing out of the twelve tribes, in the seventh chapter, with the separate gathering of the Gentile multitude afterward, "come out of (not merely great, but specifically) the great tribulation"? All is clear and consistent in detail when we have correctly the general thought.
It is the Lion of the tribe of Judah., then, who prevails to open the book. The hindrance to the blessing of Israel and the earth is now removed. Christ has overcome. But how then overcome? What could be the impediment to the execution of divine purposes of goodness toward men, and how alone could evil be met, subdued, - nay, made to minister to higher blessing? This is what is now to be declared.
"And I saw standing in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb, as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth."
The Lamb is not here represented as upon the throne, but in the midst of a circle formed by the throne, the living creatures, and the elders. Lamb as He is (and the word used emphasizes the connected thought of feebleness in some way), the attribute of perfect power is seen in the seven horns as that of omniscience is seen in the seven eyes, with the still more decisive interpretation given them. Still the feebleness is again marked, and to the extreme, in the note appended that it was "as though it had been slain." Weakness, then, we are to mark in the One depicted here as well as power, and the evident tokens of past suffering even to death, although alive out of death.
Evidently this is how He has prevailed. He has conquered death through dying, conquered it in its own domain by going into it, giving Himself a sacrifice, a vicarious offering, for the lamb was well known as that. Sin has been thus met by atonement; evil triumphed over by good, the might of pure love acting according to holiness, where power otherwise there was none, or it was against the Sufferer. This was the victory that opened the book.
But we must not read this as if it was meant to assure us that the Christian view of the Lamb has replaced or set aside or come as in a mystery to explain the Jewish conception of the Lion. This is the thought of many, but it is entirely wrong and hopelessly confusing. The Lion and the Lamb are but one blessed Person; and, moreover, One who remains, through whatever changes of position, wholly unchanging Himself, - "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever" (Heb. xiii. 8). This is true, and necessarily true, and it is our joy and consolation for all time; but it does not turn condemnation into salvation, or make the judgment of wrath a piping instead of mourning.
The Lion of the tribe of Judah is not a mere Jewish notion, but a true and scriptural conception. It is Jewish indeed - not Christian; and for that very reason cannot be the equivalent of the "Lamb as it had been slain." And yet it is in His victory over death that He acquires the power which as the Lion of Judah He displays. This is how the two views, in themselves so manifestly different, find their relation to one another.
Yet it is the Lamb that takes the book, and the Lion of the tribe of Judah who does so. As the first, He is the Interpreter of the counsels of redeeming love, as they embrace the whole circle of its objects. As the second, He takes up Israel specifically to deliver them from surrounding enemies and establish them in peace under the shield of His omnipotence. His title here has plainly to do with power displayed against the foes of His people. And this is what plainly gives the necessary standpoint from which we can see aright the meaning of the chapters which follow for the larger part of the remainder of the book.
Yet it is no wonder that up in heaven, among the redeemed, it is as the Lamb slain that the myriad voices celebrate Him, and the Lion of Judah seems to be forgotten. This is not really so; nor does it show that the one title is not to be distinguished from the other. When He acts according to the latter, we shall find how intense are the sympathies of this heavenly throng. To no act of His can there be indifference. But the praise and homage of heaven are to the Lamb slain. Redemption is what declares Him to the heart, and that a redemption by purchase, though redemption by power be its necessary complement. The Lamb slain gives the one side; the Lion of the tribe of Judah speaks of the other.
When the Lamb takes the book, the redemption song is heard in heaven. "And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sing a new song, saying, 'Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with Thy blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and madest them unto our God a kingdom and priests, and they shall reign over the earth."
In this "new song," the living creatures and the elders are united. The angels we find in the verses succeeding these, worshiping in a circle outside and in other terms. This surely is another sign of what is taking place, and where the vision brings us. The symbols of administrative government, which the living creatures present to us, are now connected with redeemed men, and no longer with angels. "Unto angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come whereof we speak. But one in a certain place testified, saying, 'What is man, that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; Thou crownedst him with glory and honour; Thou didst set him over the works of Thy hands" (Heb. ii. 5 - 8).
This is, of course, spoken of the Lord Jesus, but in Him man, according to the will of God, comes to the place of authority in the world to come, in which, in the book of Daniel, we find the angels. It is when the Son of Man takes His own throne that the saints reign with Him. Thus, in this song of redemption we have now "they shall reign over the earth." It is plain, then, that the vision here brings us to the eve of the millennial day.
Not only are the heavenly saints seen as about to enter on their reign over the earth; they are already in their character as priests, "having golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." It is not said that they are offering them: they are, in fact, at that moment in another attitude; and this seems pointed out as to them, as if to be another of the marks of the period which is now beginning. Observe, they are never looked at as themselves interceding. They are charged with the prayers of others, but add nothing to them. There are no supererogatory merits that they have acquired, to give efficacy to what they present; and the prayers themselves are the incense, not incense is added to them. Romanism finds here no atom of justification, such as some have alleged; but the statement of the text is plain, and we must abide by it. The risen saints are priests and kings to God. In the former capacity, they have the incense prayers in their hand; in the latter, they are presently to reign over the earth, so that the cherubic living creatures and the elders are now seen together. Thus the period of the vision is made as plain as possible, and the song of the redeemed is thus a "new" song, not because redemption itself was yet a new thing, but because it was now, as far as heaven itself was concerned, accomplished. Resurrection, the redemption of the body, was now accomplished, and the Lamb about to commence what He alone could undertake - the redemption by power of the earth also. At this point, the song of praise celebrates the completion of all as to the singers save the reign over the earth involved in what He is now taking in hand to do. Thus the song is new.
But is it their own redemption they are celebrating? The text as it used to be read made no doubt of this; but it is abandoned by the general consent of the editors, who accept substantially what the R.V. gives, except that, as to the last clause, there is still dispute whether it should be "they reign" or "they shall reign." I prefer the latter, as most according to the fact, authorities being divided. The result as to the whole is that the elders do not say, "Thou hast redeemed us, and we shall reign," but "Thou hast redeemed a people, and they shall reign." Instead of being specific, it is general, as to who the people are, although the last clause limits it to the heavenly family of the redeemed. The millennial saints do not reign over the earth. They inherit it in peace and blessing, but it is they who suffer with Christ who shall reign with Him (2 Tim. ii. 12).
The change puts emphasis upon the redemption, rather than upon the persons who are partakers of it; and this commends itself to spiritual apprehension. The Lamb and His wondrous work fill the souls of His own with rapture as they fall before His feet: "THOU wast slain, and hast redeemed to God." But there seems to me no ground for what some allege from this change of text, that the heavenly saints here are celebrating the redemption of others and not their own! Why should this be? The language does not necessitate it; for if we say, "Thou hast redeemed a people," even though we are speaking of ourselves, it is quite in order to say, keeping up the third person all through, "and they shall reign." I agree with those who hold the view with which I cannot agree, that there is a company of martyrs after this who are, as such, to be joined to this heavenly company, and who are seen in this way as added to them in chap. xx. 4 - 6. But to think that in the vision before us the saints are praising Christ solely for the redemption of another class than themselves, is, I venture to say, extreme and incongruous. Surely we should not think, in praising Christ for redemption, of wholly Omitting the thought that we ourselves are among the subjects of it! Every consideration here, moreover, would forbid the supposition.
Outside the circle of the redeemed, the angels have now their place and their praise. It has been often and justly remarked that they do not "sing." Their peaceful lives, not subject to vicissitude, nor touched by sin, furnish no various tones for melody. The harps which we have above are tuned down here, where the Davids, signalized by their afflictions, are the sweet singers of Israel. Wondrous and eternal fruit of earth's sorrow, though by divine grace only, the redeemed among men will be the choir of heaven! Blessed be God!
"And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying as with a great voice, 'Worthy is the Lamb that has been slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing."
Redemption has thus added to the angels' praise. It is not to the Creator only. And in this new praise, a new element of blessing, a new apprehension of God, has entered into their hearts. They are nearer, though in this outside circle, than they ever were before. In truth, though in some sense outside, our earthly idea of distance fails to convey the thought. Larger and smaller measures of apprehension there may be and will be, but true distance of the creature from the Creator is in heaven the one impossibility, where of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ every family is named. "Whither shall I go from Thy presence?" is never whispered; and the whisper of it, even in heaven, would make it hell.
And now, in a wider sweep again, -"Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, even all that are in them, heard I saying, 'Blessing and honour and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.' And the four living creatures said, 'Amen,' and the elders fell down and worshipped."
This is the voice of the lower creation in echo to the praise of heaven. It is such a response as many of the psalms call for in view of the coming of the Lord; and is another mark of the time of the vision. The earth under the desolation of the fall has for the time lost its place, as it might seem, and wandered as a planet from its orbit into the starless silence around. Christ, as her central Sun, has come back to her after the long polar darkness, and her voices wake up as the spring returns. Blessed it is to realise (so simple and natural as it is) the response to this response on the part of the human elders, as this sound is heard. The governmental powers of earth - the living creatures - utter their glad "Amen" to it. Earth is to repay the long labour and service of rule at last. And the elders, with their own memories of sin and darkness (now forever but memories, though undying), hear it in a thrill of sympathetic joy that (as all the joy of heaven) melts into adoration: "The elders fell down and worshipped."
THE OPENING OF THE SEALS: THE FIRST FOUR SEALS.
(Chap. vi. i, 2.)
The Lamb having taken the book, the opening of the seals at once follows. When they are all loosed, - and not before, - then the book is fully opened. The seals then give us the introduction to the book, rather than (as many have imagined,) the complete contents. Beyond the seals lie the trumpets, contrasted with the seals in their nature: the latter are divine secrets opened to faith; the trumpets, loud-voiced calls to the whole earth. These go on to the setting up of the kingdom in the seventh trumpet; and after that, we have only separate visions giving the details of special parts, until in the nineteenth chapter we reach again a connected series of events, stretching from the marriage of the Lamb through the millennium to the great white throne.
The opening of the seals, then, gives us events introductory, as regards both time and character, to what follows, and which have their importance largely in this very fact. The opening of them is the key to the book; for when they are opened, the book is. Yet they only set us upon the threshold of the great events which precede the setting up of the kingdom of Christ., the time of the trumpets; while on the other hand they contain the germ and prophecy of these, which spring out of them as it were necessarily.
In the Lord's great prophecy of Matt. xxiv., which similarly sets before us the time of the end, we have, before the period of special tribulation connected with the abomination of desolation in the holy place, an order of things which has often been compared with what we find under the seals. Nor can we compare them without being struck with the resemblance. The Lord specifies here, as warning-signs of His coming, false Christs, wars, and rumours of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, and persecution of His people. In the first and second seals we have correspondingly war - that of conquest and civil war; in the third, famine; in the fourth, pestilence; in the fifth, the cry of the martyrs; and in the sixth, a great earthquake, though perhaps only as a symbol of national convulsion. Only the false Christs seem to be entirely omitted, and some have therefore imagined that the rider on the white horse in the first seal - coming, it must be admitted, in the right place to preserve the harmony with the gospel, - might fill the gap. But this we must look at later on. The correspondence is sufficiently striking to confirm strongly the thought that the seals refer to the same period as does the passage in the gospel, the time preceding and introducing the great tribulation of the end.
Looking again at the seals, we find they are divided, like most other septenary series, into four and three; the first four being marked from the rest by the horse and rider which is in each, and by the call of the living beings by which each is introduced. Their relation to each other is plainer (or more outward) than in the case of the last three, as may be observed also in such series generally. And how beautiful and reassuring is this rhythm of prophecy! The power of God everywhere controlling with perfect ease the winds and waves in their wildest uproar, so as for faith to produce harmony where the natural ear finds only discord. Significant is it that in no other book of Scripture have we so much of these numberings and divisions and proportionate series as we have in the book of Revelation. The call of the cherubim at the opening of the first four seals is also significant. It is to be noted that it is not addressed, as in our common version, to John, but to the riders upon the horses, who then come forth. It is not "Come and see," but "Come," as the R.V., with the editors in general, now gives it. The living beings utter their call also in the order in which they have been seen in the vision: for although in the first instance it is said, "one of the four living beings," not "the first," yet in the case of the other seals they are named in order - second, third, and fourth. And we shall find a correspondence in each case between the living being and the one who comes forth at his call.
We have seen that the cherubic figures speak of the government of God, in the hands of those who are commissioned of Him to exercise it. And thus the vail of the holiest, the type of the Lord in manhood - " the vail, that is to say, His flesh" (Heb. x. 20)_was embroidered with cherubim. To Him they have peculiar reference as the King of God's appointment; and the four gospels, as has been seen by many, give in their central features these cherubic characters in the Lord, and again in the order in which the book of Revelation exhibits them. The Lion of Judah we find in Matthew's gospel, where Christ is looked at as Son of David. Mark gives us, on the other hand, the young bullock - the Servant's form. Luke meets us with the dear and familiar features of manhood, - the "face of a man ;" while in John we have the bird of heaven - the vision of incarnate Godhead. These aspects of the Gospels I may assume to be familiar to my readers - here is not the place to consider them.
Now Christ has been seen in heaven in a double character: - the Lion of the tribe of Judah is the Lamb that was slain. It is the title under which He takes everything, for it is that which shows Him as the One who has bought every thing by His surrender of Himself unto death. He is the "man" who, according to His own parable, having found in a field hidden treasure, went and sold all that he had, and bought that field. "The field," He says again Himself, "is the world."
But the Lord's death had also another side to it. It was man's emphatic rejection of God in His dearest gift to him, - just in his sweetest and most wonderful grace. While every gospel has a different tale to tell of what Christ is, every gospel has also, as an essential feature, the story of His rejection in that character. As Son of David, as the gracious Minister to man's need, as God's true Man, or as the only begotten Son from heaven, He is still the crucified One. Man has cast out with insult the divine Saviour, - has refused utterly God's help and His salvation. What must be the result? He must - if in spite of long-suffering mercy he persist in this - remain unhelped and unsaved. He has cast out the Son of God; and why? Because he was His. essential opposite: "the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me." The world which rejects Christ as finding nothing in Him naturally is the world which owns Satan as its prince. He who rejects Christ is ready for Antichrist; and so He says to the Jews, "I am come in My Father's name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive."
Thus man's sin foreshadows the judgment which must come upon him. This is no arbitrary thing. The law is the same physically and morally, - "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." In the true sense here, man is the maker of his own destiny. And this will prepare us to understand the cherubim call for judgment. If the living beings represent characters of God's government, and characters also which are found in Christ, we can find here a double reason why, Christ being rejected, the judgments come forth at the cherubim's call. A rejected Saviour calls forth a destroyer. The voice of the lion summons to his career the whitehorsed conqueror.
This shows us, then, that it is not Christ who is thus represented. Many have supposed so, naturally comparing with it the vision of the nineteenth chapter, where Christ comes forth upon a white horse to the judgment of the earth. But the comparison really proves the opposite. We have not, certainly, under the first seal, already reached the time of Christ's appearing. And the symbol of judgment is unsuited for the going forth of the blessed gospel of peace. The gospel dispensation is over now, and the sheaves of its golden harvest are gathered into the barn. Not peace is it now, but war. Peace they would not have at His hands: its alternative they have no choice as to receiving. Christ received would have been an enemy only to man's enemies. Power would have been used on his behalf, and not against him: that rejected, the foes that would have been put down rise up, and hold him captive.
This, then, is the key to what we have under the first seal: a few words must suffice for the present as to the other details.
The horse is noted in Scripture for its strength, and as the instrument of war: other thoughts believed to be associated with it seem scarcely to be sustained. It indicates, therefore, aggressive power, and a white horse is well known as the symbol of victory. In the rider, who of course governs the horse, there seems generally indicated an agent of divine providence, though it may be not merely unintentionally so, but even in spirit hostile. The rider here is not characterized save by his acts. His bow is his weapon of offence, which speaks not of hand-tohand conflict, but of wounds inflicted at a distance. The crown given li/rn seems certainly to imply, as another has said, that he obtains royal or imperial dignity as the fruit of his success, though by whom the crown is given does not appear. Altogether we have but a slight sketch of the one presented to us here, and one which might fit many of whom history speaks; but this is divine history,and the person before us must have an important connection with the purposes of God, to earn for him the leading place which he, fills in the beginning of these visions of earthly doom.
We naturally ask, Can we find no intimations elsewhere of this conqueror? It appears to me we may; and I hope to give further on what I think Scripture teaches as to it, not as pretending to dogmatize as to what is obscure, but presenting simply the grounds of my own judgment for the consideration of others. If it be not the exact truth, it may yet lead in the direction of the truth.
Some preliminary points have, however, first to be settled; and for the present it will be better to content ourselves with noting the detail as to this first rider, and to pass on. The second living creature is the patient ox. True figure of God's laborer, strength only used in lowly toil for man, it speaks to us of Him who on God's part laboured to bring man back to Him, and plough again the channels back to the forsaken source, so that the perennial streams might fill them, and bring again to earth the old fertility. Yet here the ox calls forth one to whom it is "given to take peace from the earth, and that they should slay one another." Civil war is bidden forth by that which is the type of love's patient ministry. Yes, and how fitly! For just as if received, God having His place, all else would have its own; so, rejected, all must be out of joint and in disorder. Man in rebellion against God, the very beasts of the earth rebel in turn. Having cast off affection where most natural, all natural affection withers. Man has initiated a disorder which he cannot stop where he desires, but which will spread until all sweet and holy ties are sundered, and love is turned (as it may be turned) to deadliest opposition.
In the third seal the third living creature calls: the one with the face of a man. At his call, famine comes. We see a black horse, and he that sits on him has a pair of balances in his hand; and there is heard in the midst of the living beings a voice which cries, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine." A denarius, which was the ordinary day's earnings of a laboring man, would usually buy eight quarts of wheat, one of which would scarcely suffice for daily bread. It is evident, therefore, that this implies great scarcity.
The congruity of this judgment with the call of the living being is not so easy to be understood as in the former cases. Were we permitted to spiritualise it, and think of what Amos proclaims, "Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the words of the Lord, such a famine would, on the other hand, suit well: for "the face of a man" reminds us how God has met us in His love, and revealed Himself to us, inviting our confidence, speaking in our familiar mother tongue, studying to be understood and appreciated by us; and assuredly this familiar intercourse with Him is what we want for heart satisfaction. "Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us," was not an unintelligent request so far as man's need is itself concerned. The unintelligence was in what the Lord points out, "Have I been so long time with you, and hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father."
Here, then, man's need is fully met. The hunger of his soul is satisfied. The bread from heaven is what the Son of Man alone gives, and it is meat that "endures to everlasting life." And this rejected, - the true manna loathed and turned from, - what remains but a wilderness indeed, a barren soil without a harvest?
But this gives only a hint of the real connection: for this seal following the other two, seems evidently to give a result of these. What more simple and natural than that after conquest and civil war, - above all, the latter, - the untilled soil should leave men destitute? Still more, that the oil and the wine, which do not need in the same way man's continual care, remain on the whole uninjured?
An ordinary famine seems to be intended, therefore; yet the connection has been hinted as already said: for the natural is every where a type of the spiritual, and depends on it, as the lesser upon the greater. Our common mercies are thus ours through Christ alone. Take away the one, the other goes. A natural famine is the due result of the rejection of the spiritual food. With the substance goes the shadow also.
That the third living creature calls for famine, then, may in this way be understood, and it shows how the greater the blessing lost, the deeper the curse retained. Christ rejected strikes every natural good.
And when we come to the fourth seal, and the flying eagle summons forth the pale horse with its rider Death, Hades following with him to engulf the souls of the slain, the same lesson is to be read, becoming only plainer. John's is the gospel to which this flying eagle corresponds, - the gospel of love and life and light, each fathomless, each a mystery, each divine. Blot this out - reject, refuse it, what remains? What but the awful eternal opposite, which the death here as from the wrath of God introduces to?
These initial judgments, then, are seen to speak of that which brings the judgment. The day of harvest is beginning, and man is being called to reap what he has sown. The darkness which begins to shut all in is the darkness not merely of absent, but rejected light.
This, in its full dread reality, no one that is Christ's can ever know. Yet before we leave it, it is well for us to realize how far for us also rejected light may be, and must be, darkness. We are in the kingdom of Christ., children of the light, delivered from the authority of darkness. Around us are poured the blessed beams of gladdening and enfranchising day. And yet this renders any real darkness in which we may be practically the more solemn. It too is not a mere negative, not a mere absence of light, but light shut out. And darkness itself is a kingdom, rebellious indeed, yet subject to the god of this world. To shut out the light - any light - is to shut in the darkness, and thus far to join the revolt against God and good. And the necessary judgment follows, - for us, a Father's discipline, that we may learn, in our self-chosen way, what evil is, but learn it, that at last we may be what we must be, if we are to dwell with Him, "partakers of His holiness." But will it not be loss, - aye, even eternal loss, to have had to learn it so?
Who would force the love that yearns over us to chasten, instead of comforting, - to minister sorrow, when it should and would bring gladness only? THERE IS NO MERE NEGATIVE. In that in which we are not for Christ, we are against Him. To shut Him out is a wrong and insult to Him. And these quick-eyed cherubim, careful for the "holy, holy, holy God" they celebrate, will they not, must they not, call forth the judgment answering to the sin?
THE LAST THREE SEALS
(Rev. vi. 9 - 17)
The first four seals have thus shown to us judgments poured out upon the earth, - judgments which are the necessary result of the rejection of Christ, now completed by the refusal of the gospel for so many centuries of divine long-suffering. The fifth opens to us a very different scene: here are beheld "under the altar, the souls of them that were beheaded for the word of God and for the testimony which they held." Persecution has broken out against the people of God; for such there are still upon the earth, though the saints of the present time are with the Lord in glory. Heaven being filled, the Spirit of God has been at work to fill the earth with blessing; and here, as we know, God's ancient people are the first subjects of His converting grace. The remnant of that time could be fitly represented by those disciples of the Lord to whom He addressed the great prophecy of His coming, Jewish as they were still in conceptions and in heart; and to these, after such warnings as had been fulfilled in the former seals, He says, "Then shall they deliver you up to tribulation, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all the nations (the Gentiles) for My name's sake." The two passages agree with one another and with nature.
Woe unto those who in a day of wrath upon the world for the rejection of Christ go into it to insist upon His claim! And that is what is meant by "the gospel of the kingdom" which the Lord tells us "shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all the nations, and then shall the end come" (Matt. xxiv. 14). "Glad tidings" though it may be that the kingdom of righteousness at last is to be set up, and the King Himself is at hand, - to those who reject Him, it is the announcement of their doom. And we see under this fifth seal what will be the result. The Word of God will again have its martyrs, but whose cry will not be with Stephen, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge!" but with the martyrs of the Old Testament, "The Lord look upon it, and require it!" "And they cried with a loud voice, 'How long, 0 Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge, and avenge our blood on them that dwell upon the earth?"
The cry is now in place, as is the pleading for grace in a day of grace. Judgment is indeed to come, and the time when God "maketh inquisition for blood" (Ps. ix. 12); but though at hand, there is yet a certain delay, for, alas! even yet, the measure of man's iniquity is not reached. "And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants and their brethren, who should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."
Two seasons of persecution seem to be marked here, though with no necessary interval between them; though the crash that follows under the sixth seal, with the terror thus (if but for awhile) produced, might well cause such a cessation of persecution for the time being. Whether this be so or not, the two periods are surely here distinguished. A much later passage (chap. xx. 4) similarly distinguishes them, while it enables us to recognize the latter of these periods as that of the beast under his last head: "And I saw thrones, and they sat on them" - those already enthroned in chap. iv. and v., - "and the souls of those that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the word of God," - those seen under the fifth seal, - "and such as had not worshipped the beast, nor his image, and had not received his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands"- here are their "brethren that were to be slain as they were"- "and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."
The distinction between these two periods proves the introductory character of the seals, at least as far as we have gone. The time of the great tribulation is not come; just as, in Matt. xxiv. the persecution prophesied of precedes it. Thus the martyrs here, while owned and approved, have yet to wait for the answer to their prayer. Sonic answer, it need not be doubted, the next seal gives; but plainly, it cannot be the full one: there are decisive reasons for refusing the thought entertained by many, that it is really the "great day of the Lamb's wrath" which is come. Men's guilty consciences make them judge it to be this; but that is only their interpretation, not the divine one.
A terrible break-up of the existing state of things it is: "And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great convulsion; and the sun became as sackcloth of hair, and the whole moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, as a fig tree casteth her unripe figs when she is shaken of a great wind. And the heaven was removed as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of theiv places. And the kings of the earth, and the princes, and the chief captains, and the rich, and the strong, and every bondman and freeman, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains; and they say to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?" Well may it seem to be so; and just such physical signs are announced in Joel (ii. 31 and iii. 5) before "the great and terrible day of the Lord shall come." Just so also the Lord speaks of what shall take place after the tribulation: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. XXIV. 29, 30). The sixth seal precedes the tribulation, however, as we have seen; except this could occur between the fifth and sixth, and were passed silently over. This would be a very violent supposition in view of what we have already seen, and of what follows the sixth seal itself, as we may see presently. The rolling up the heavens as a scroll, moreover, goes beyond the language of Joel or of the Lord, carrying us on, indeed, to the passing away of the heaven and earth which precedes the coming in of that "new heavens and earth in which dwelleth righteousness" (2 Pet. iii. 13). But this is impossible to be thought of as occurring in this place. The only other practicable interpretation, therefore, must be the true one, - the language is figurative, and the signs are not physical, though designedly given in terms which remind us of what indeed is swiftly approaching, though not yet actually come.
And in this way the general significance is not difficult to apprehend. The heavens in this way represent the seat of authority. Nebuchadnezzar had to learn that the "heavens rule" (Dan. iv. 26). And they represent figuratively rule also on the part of man. In the Old Testament prophets, we have similar pictures to that before us here (Isa. xiii. io; XXX1V. 4), where the context shows that national convulsions are prophesied of. Here, it is evidently the collapse of governments, the shaking of all that seemed most settled and secure. All classes of men - high and low, rich and poor, are involved in the effect of it, and their stricken consciences ascribe it as judgment to the wrath of God and the Lamb. In their alarm, they imagine He is just about to appear; but He does not, and the panic passes away. A new state of things is introduced, of which the features unfold themselves.
When we might now expect the opening of the seventh seal, we find instead the parenthetic visions of the seventh chapter; and there is a similar interruption in exactly the same place in the trumpet series: the vision of the little book and the two witnesses comes in between the sixth and seventh trumpets. This exact correspondence claims our attention. One result of it is to make the septenary series an octave, and to give, therefore, to the last seal and the last trumpet the character of a seventh and yet of an eighth division. Let us inquire for a moment into the significance of these numbers in this connection.
The numbers are, in their scriptural meaning, in some sense opposite to one another. "Seven" speaks of completion, perfection, and so cessation. Seven notes give the whole compass in music. On the seventh day God ended all His work which He had made, and rested. The eighth day is the first of a new week, - a new beginning. The eighth note is similarly a new beginning. The essential idea attaching to the number in its symbolic use in Scripture is that of what is new, in contrast with the old which is passed away, - as the new covenant, the new creation. As outside the perfect seven, it adds no other thought?
Now if we will remember the character of these seals, that they keep the book closed, it follows of course that the seventh seal opened opens for the first time really the book itself. This in fact introduces us therefore to what is a new thing. We were up to this time in the porch or vestibule merely. Immediately the last door is opened we are in the building itself. Does not this account for the fact that on its opening there is simply a brief pause - " silence in heaven for the space of half an hour," - and then come the trumpets? This is exactly according to the seven-eight character of the closing seal. One period is over, and with this we begin another. The last seal is open, and this discloses, not a bit more introduction, but the book itself.
The seventh trumpet will be found in these respects very like the seventh seal. It too is brief; and while closing the trumpet series of judgment - in fact the three special woes, - opens into another condition of things, not woe at all, but the time long looked for, when "the kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever" (chap. xi. 15). Thus the seven-eight structure justifies itself in both series, of seals and trumpets.
But before the seventh seal comes a parenthetic vision, which is not a part of the seals really, but a disclosure of what is in the mind of the Lord, His purpose of grace fulfilling steadfastly amid all the strife and sorrow and sin which might seem to prevail every where. Let us now give it our careful attention.
The Parenthetic Visions - The Sealed of Israel
(Chap. vii. i8.)
An objection may be taken to our interpretation of the convulsion under the sixth seal, - that it is not in harmony with that which we have given of the earlier ones. In these, the "earth," for instance, was assumed to be literally that; in the latter, it is taken in a figurative sense; and it may be urged that this want of uniformity in interpretation allows us to make of these visions very much what we will, - in fact makes their alleged meaning altogether inconsistent and unreliable.
This is a mistake, though a very natural one, and it needs to be examined and shown to be such, or else a serious difficulty will remain in the way of further progress, if such indeed be possible. For the same inconsistency, if it be really that, will appear again and again as we proceed with our study of the book before us; we shall be using the same terms now in a literal and again in a figurative sense, as it may appear, arbitrarily, but in fact as compelled by necessity to do so, or according to the law of the highest reason.
Figures pervade our common speech, even the most literal and prosaic, - disguised for us often by the mere fact that they are used so commonly. We employ them, too, with a latitude of meaning which in no wise affects their intelligibility to us. They are used with a certain freedom in which there is nothing arbitrary, but the reverse. They are used rather in the interests of clearness and intelligibility, the main end sought, which governs indeed their use. It is simple enough to say that the whole art of language is in clearness of expression, and that the right use of figures is therefore for this end.
Now, in visions, such as we have in Revelation, figures, it is true, have a much larger place: the meaning of the vision as a whole is symbolic - figurative. Yet this does not at all suppose that every feature in it is so, and in no case perhaps is this really true.
Take the fifth seal as a sufficient example, - where the altar is figurative, and so are the white robes, but the killing of their brethren is real and literal. This mingling of the literal and symbolic in one vision makes it plain that they may be and will be found mingled through the whole series of visions. And if it be asked, How, then are we to discern the one from the other? the answer will be, that each case must be judged separately, - the sense that is simplest, most self consistent, and agreeable to the context being surely the right one. God writes, as man does, to be understood, and intelligibility gives the law, therefore, to all the rest. It is reassuring indeed to remember this: plenty of deep things there are in the Word of God, and more perhaps than any where else are they to be found in the book of Revelation, but the mystery in them is never from mere verbal concealments or misty speech, but from defect in us, - spiritual dullness and incapacity. This most difficult of all Scripture books God has stamped with the name of "REVELATION."
These thoughts are not an unnecessary introduction to the parenthetic visions between the sixth and the seventh seals, where just such questions have been asked as to the sealing of a hundred and forty-four thousand out of every tribe of the children of Israel. Is it in fact Israel literally, or a typical, spiritual Israel that we are to think of? The latter is the thought of expositors generally, though by no means all; and we are told (as by Lange, for instance,) that if we take Israel literally to be meant, then we must take all the other details, - the exact number sealed, etc., - literally also: to do which would not involve any absurdity, but which we have seen to be not in the least necessitated. We are free, as to all matters of the kind, to ask, What is the most suitable meaning? and to find in this suitability, the justification of one view or the other. The context argues for the literal sense. The innumerable multitude seen afterward before the throne, "out of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues," shows us plainly a characteristically Gentile gathering, and that they are in some sense in contrast with the Israelitish one seems clear. Taken together, they throw light upon one another, and display the divine mercy both to Jews and Gentiles in the latter days. While the separateness of these companies, and the priority given to Israel., agree with the character of a time when the Christian Church being removed to heaven, the old distinctions are again in force. We are again in the line of Old Testament prophecy, and of Jewish "promises" (Rom. ix. 4); "the Lion of the tribe of Judah " has taken the book. Even apart from the context, (decisive as this is), the enumeration of the tribes would seem to make the description literal enough, even although Dan be at present missing from among them, and supposing no reason could be assigned for this. Judah too is in her place as the royal tribe: not the natural birthright, but divine favour Israel controls the order here. Every thing assures us that it is indeed Israel., and as a nation, that is now in the scene. Let us turn back now to see how she is introduced to us.
"After this, I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that no wind should blow on the earth, or on the sea, or upon any tree. And I saw another angel ascend from the sunrising, having the seal of the living God; and he cried with a great voice to the four angels to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, nor the sea, nor the trees, till we shall have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.'"
Here it is manifest that, terrible as have been the judgments already, far worse are at hand. The four winds - expressive of all the agencies of natural evil - are about to blow together upon the earth, under the control of spiritual powers (the angels) which guide them according to the supreme will of God. It is the "day of the Lord of Hosts upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low" (Isa. ii. 12). And as nothing lifts itself up as the tree does, so the "tree" is specially marked out here: the ax is laid at the root of it. The passage in Isaiah goes on quite similarly: "And upon all the cedars of Lebanon that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan " (v. 13).
But this becomes, as in the Baptist's lips, a general sentence upon man as man, from which none may escape but as in the Lord's grace counted worthy. Thus the sealing becomes quite evidently the counterpart of what we find in the ninth of Ezekiel, though there the range of judgment is more limited. "And He called to the man clothed in linen, which had the writer's inkhorn by his side; and the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.' And to the others He said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite; let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity; slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children and women, but come not near any man upon whom is the mark.'"
The sealing is as evidently preservative as the "mark" is. They are both upon the forehead, - open and manifest. If we look on to the fourteenth chapter here, we shall find upon the hundred and forty-four thousand there (a company as to the identity of which with the present one it is not yet time to ask the question,) the name of the Lamb's Father written, and the seal marks thus undoubtedly to whom they belong. Let us notice also that we are just approaching the time here in which the beast also will have his mark, if not always on the forehead, at least in the hands (chap. xiii. 16). The time of unreserved confession of one master or the other will then have come; and no divided service will be any longer possible. The beast "boycotts" (they have already invented both the thing and the expression for him,) those who do not receive his mark: those who do receive it are cast into the lake of fire (chap. xiii. ii Xiv. 9, io).
The sealing is angelic, - a very different thing therefore from present sealing with the Holy Ghost, and from any power or gift of the Spirit. No angel could confer this, and the creaturehood of the angel here is manifest from his words, "Till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." The "we" shows that more than one execute the ministry, and they that do this speak of God as "our God." This is decisive, apart from all dispensational considerations. But in what the sealing consists it seems scarcely possible to say: the effect is, that the people of God are manifested as His, and preserved thus from the judgments which are ready to be sent upon it.
"The seal of the living God" seems along with this to imply their preservation as living men against all the power of their adversaries - His, and therefore theirs. True, that the power of the living God is shown more victoriously in resurrection than in preservation merely; true also that to the souls under the altar it has been foretold of others of their brethren to be slain as they were, and who are no less marked as His by the deaths they die for Him than any others can be: yet the "seal of the living God" may clearly manifest its power in securing preservation of natural life, and the connection seems to imply this here; while thus alone do the two companies of this parenthetic vision, - the Jewish and the Gentile, - supplement each other, as is their evident design. This also to some will not be apparent, for the Gentile multitude are commonly taken to be risen saints in heaven. But the consideration of this must be reserved for the present.
Certainly the enumeration of the tribes speaks for their connection with God's purposes for Israel nationally upon the earth, where her future is. In heaven, as a nation, she has no place, but on earth ever preserves it (Isa. lxvi. 22). And here the connection of both these companies with a series of events on earth is evident. It may be said that the souls under the altar find similarly their place in connection with the seals, and yet are passed from earth: but these are introduced to show the prevalence of persecution, the unchanged enmity to God manifesting itself thus after the first periods of judgment have run their course; while they bring on, as it would seem by their prayers, the crash which follows under the sixth seal.
No such connection can be seen here, but the saints here are to be sheltered from the judgments coming on the earth - being themselves on it, an Israelitish company, inferring national revival, significant enough for earth, but not at all for heaven.
Leaving this for the present, we must give our attention to the number so definitely stated, and so earnestly repeated, of this sealed company. The enumeration, so held up before us, and emphasized by repetition, cannot be a point of little consequence. Of each tribe distinctly it is stated that there are twelve thousand sealed. What, then, is the meaning of this number? It is evidently made up of 12 and io, the latter raised to its third power, the number of government and of responsibility. But we must look at these a little further.
Ten is the measure of responsibility, as in the ten commandments of the law; raised to the third power, it seems to me to be responsibility met in grace with glory; while the number 12 speaks, as I have elsewhere sought to show, of manifest government. If I read the meaning right, the two together speak of special place conferred upon this company in connection with the Lamb's government of the earth; and this, it seems to me, is confirmed by other considerations.
That they are not the whole remnant of Israel preserved to be the stock of the millennial nation is evident from the one fact before mentioned, that the tribe of Dan has no place among them, and yet certainly has its place in the restored nation. In Ezekiel (xlviii. i), Dan has his portion in the extreme north of the land. Thus the hundred and forty-four thousand here are clearly a special company, and not the whole of the saved people.
But the case of Dan has further instruction for us in this connection; and we shall find it, if we turn back to the blessing of the tribes by Jacob in the end of the book of Genesis. Jacob himself tells us here that he is speaking of what should befall them in the "last days;" and it is to these last days plainly that Revelation brings us: so that the propriety of the application cannot be doubted. Let us listen, then, to what the dying patriarch has to say of Dan.
"Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse-heels, so that his rider shall fall backward. I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord."
Abrupt, fragmentary, enigmatic, as the words are, with just this passage of Revelation before us, they startle us by the way in which they seem to meet the questionings which have been awakened by it. We are looking upon a sealed company, "a hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel." But Dan is not found among them! Can this tribe, we ask, have been suffered to drop out of God's chosen earthly family, so as to have no part in the final blessing? The voice from of old answers the question decisively: "Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel." No! the Lord's grace prevails over all failure: Dan does not lose his place. It cannot be that a tribe should perish out of the chosen people. But more, - the company before us, if we have read its numerical stamp aright, is a company having a place of rule under the Lamb in the day of millennial blessing; and among these, assuredly, Dan is not found. How the old prophecy comes in here once more with its assurance, "Dan shall judge his people"! The staff of judicial authority is not wholly departed; but simply as what is necessary to tribal place he retains it, "as one of the tribes of Israel.," - nothing more.
The patriarch's first words as to Dan imply, then, a low place - if not the lowest place - for Dan, even as his portion in Ezekiel is on the extreme northern border of the land. He retains his place as part of the nation, that is all. And if we naturally ask, Why? the answer is given in what follows "Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse-heels, so that his rider falleth backward."
Plainly these are characters which associate him in some way with the power of the enemy; for the "serpent," the "adder," speak of this. Jacob's words would show that in the apostasy of the mass of the nation under Antichrist, in the days to which we are here carried, Dan has a more than ordinary place. If the antichrist be, as every thing assures us, a Jew himself, what would be more in accordance with all this than the ancient thought that he will be of Dan? And here how natural the groan, yet of faith, on the part of the remnant which breaks out in the next words of the prophecy, "I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord"!
In Gad, therefore, the conflict finds its termination: "A troop shall overcome him, but he shall overcome at the last." Then in Asher and Naphtali the blessing follows, and Joseph and Benjamin show us in whom the blessing is. Upon all this, of course, it would be impossible to dilate now.
But all is confirmatory of the thought of this hundred and forty-four thousand being a special Israelitish company, destined of God to fill a place (but an earthly one,) in connection with the Lord's government of the world in millennial days. We have now to look at the Gentile company in the next vision.
THE PALM - BEARING MULTITUDE
(Rev. vii. 7 - 17.)
The hundred and forty-four thousand have been sealed before the winds of heaven have been let loose upon the earth. Before the next vision they have spent their violence, the great tribulation is passed, and an innumerable company of people are seen as come out of it. This expression, "the great-tribulation," is one that rules in the interpretation of this scene as should be evident. When people simply read, "out of great tribulation," it was natural to think of all the redeemed of all generations as being included here, and the multitude and universality of the throng thus gathered would confirm the idea; but now it ought to be no longer possible. That it is "the great tribulation" is even emphasised in the original - "the tribulation, the great one," - to forbid all generalizing in this way. We are reminded of one specific one, which as thus named we are expected to know; and he who will take Scripture simply will surely find without difficulty the one intended. We have already gone over this ground, and there is scarcely need to remind our readers that the " great tribulation" of which our Lord spoke to His disciples, "such as was not from the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be," which is shortened by divine grace, for otherwise " no flesh should be saved," and at the close of which "they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven," must needs be that out of which the multitude before us come.
That the tribulation is thus immediately followed by the coming of the Lord from heaven makes it easier to understand another thing, that their standing before the throne, as the prophet sees them, does not necessitate the thought of their being in heaven. There is no hint of their being raised from the dead, or having died at all. Simply they are "before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple." Here again it is natural to the common habits of thought to suppose that the temple of God must be in heaven, and passages from this very book would doubtless be cited in support of this (chap. xi): these will come naturally before us for consideration in their own place; but here it is sufficient to say that it is not said "in heaven," and that on earth there is yet to be a temple, as Ezekiel shows. Isaiah also declares that also of the Gentiles the Lord will "take for priests and Levites" (lxvi. 21).
With this view at least let us look at the scene before us, and see what we can gather more. That they have "white robes" shows simply their acceptance; the palms in their hands speak of rest in victory; their words ascribe their salvation to God and to the Lamb, but they "cry," - it does not say "sing." The angels and the elders stand "around" the throne; they simply stand "before" it.
One of the elders now raises the question with John, "Who are these?" He, unable to say who they can be, refers back the question to the speaker, and he answers it. But note the strangeness of such a question upon the ordinary view, and the greater strangeness of John's inability to answer. Plainly they were a company of saved ones giving praise for their salvation, and if it were the whole company, the very naturalness of the thought as accepted by so many would make us wonder at the question about it, still more at the apostle's speechlessness. But he had seen another company in heaven, who still kept their place before his eyes, and who had sung the new song, and at least with fuller praise. As to these, no question had been raised at all. It would seem, he might be trusted to make out who these were; and one of these elders was now accosting him! How could he miss the thought that here was a separate class of redeemed ones, and certainly upon a lower footing than those whose rapturous thanksgiving he had heard before?
Accordingly he hears that such is the fact. He is told they are those who come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Not their sufferings have washed their robes white, but the Lamb's blood: and here again, though the expression is peculiar, they are on common ground with saints at all times.
And on this account they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; (but in the new Jerusalem there is no temple: the "Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the Temple of it;") and "He that sitteth on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them." So rightly now the R.V., and not, "shall dwell among them." It is like Isaiah (iv. 6), who similarly describes the condition of Jerusalem in the time to which this refers: "And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain." How plain that it is as protection and defence, from the words that follow here in Revelation: "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun strike upon them, nor any heat"! How suited to men still in the world is this assurance!
But it goes on: "For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be their Shepherd, and shall guide them to fountains of waters of life, and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes."
Blessed as all this description is, it seems to fall short of the full eternal blessing, and certainly short of what is heavenly. The impression given is of the earth's warfare not yet over, sin and evil not completely banished, but themselves indeed effectually sheltered. The thought of shepherd-care suits this as well as does the tabernacle stretched over them. The thanksgiving expressed also is that of those emerging out of a trial great as that out of which it is said they come, and for whom the joy of deliverance as yet allows little else to be thought of. There is not even a song - and Scripture can be trusted to its least tittle of expression - they "cry with a great voice," but do not "sing."
We may well believe, then, that these are the priestly class taken from among the nations of which Isaiah speaks (lxvi. 21). I am aware that it is a matter of dispute whether "I will take of them for priests and Levites" is to be referred to the Israelites whom the Gentiles bring back or to the Gentiles who bring them back; but, as Delitzsch well says, "God is here certainly not announcing so simple a thing as that the priests among the returned people should be still priests." He has just declared that the Gentiles "shall bring all your brethren out of all the nations for an offering unto the Lord... as the children of Israel bring their offering in a clean vessel unto the house of the Lord." The Gentiles are here, therefore, this "clean vessel;" and being thus cleansed, He further promises as to them, "And of them also will I take for priests and Levites, saith the Lord."
The passages in Isaiah and Revelation mutually confirm each other in this application, and we see who are those honored to serve in the temple of the Lord, as we see also what temple it is in which they serve. All is in perfect harmony, and the multitude of Gentiles stands here in plain analogy with Israel 's hundred and forty-four thousand, and upon a similar footing to them. The two together complete the picture of blessing for both Israel and the Gentiles, through the storm which is about to burst upon the earth. Neither group is heavenly; neither is the full number to be saved and enjoy the summer sunshine of millennial days; but they are the sheaf of first-fruits of the harvest beyond, in each case dedicated, therefore, in a peculiar manner to the Lord.
Let us pause here to notice the thought so characteristic of the book of Revelation, book as it is of the throne and of governmental recompense, - of "robes washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb." The figures of Scripture are perfectly definite and absolutely appropriate, never needing apology. Of them, as of all else in it, the words of the Lord are true: "Scripture cannot be broken." On the other hand, they are various, and with meaning in their variations, so that if we are not careful, we may easily force them into contradiction with each other and with the truth.
What, for instance, is the "robe" in which the saint appears before God? It is easy to answer, and absolutely scriptural to quote, "He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness" (Isa. lxi. io). And how beautifully does the "robe" speak of that, by which the shame of our nakedness, which came in through sin, is put away!
But what is our righteousness? Here again we have most familiar texts, "This is the name whereby He shall be called, The Lord our righteousness'" (Jer. xxiii. 6); "Christ, who is made of God unto us... righteousness." And the prodigal's "best robe" reminds us here how the beauty of Christ upon us must transcend far the lustre of angelic garments.
Nevertheless, if we think we have got the one idea of Scripture in this matter, we shall be sorely perplexed when we come to this text in Revelation. Could we wash this robe, and make it white in the blood of the Lamb? Assuredly not: it would be impossible to apply this expression, in any way that can be imagined, to this robe, which is Christ.
The Revelation has its own distinct phraseology here, in perfect harmony with the line of truth which it takes up. The robe is still the symbol of righteousness, but in view of the recompense that awaits us, "the fine linen" with which the bride is clothed, "is the righteousnesses - the righteous deeds - of the saints" (chap. xix. 8). It is practical righteousness that is in question, - not something wrought by another for us, but wrought by our own hands. It is a completely different thought from that in the Lord's parable, and in no wise contradictory because so different. Assuredly "we shall all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive for the things done in the body, whether it be good or bad" (2 Cor. v. io).
For the saint, indeed, this is not to come personally into judgment. That, the Lord has assured us, personally we cannot do (Jno. V. 24, R.V.). God can raise no question as to a soul whom He has received, whether He has received him. The matter of reward is entirely distinct from that of personal acceptance; but it has its place. And here comes in this solemn and precious reminder of how the robe needs washing in the blood of the Lamb in order to be white. How else could any thing of ours find approval and recompense? Thus as the apostle tells us in his prayer for Onesiphorus (2 Tim. i. i8), that reward itself is "mercy:" "the Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day!"
These saints out of the great tribulation know at least that not by tribulation, but by the work of Another, can that which is best and holiest in their lives be accepted of God. "They have washed their robes." They have renounced the thought of any proper whiteness in their robes save that produced by the blood of the Lamb. On this ground they are as we, and we are as they.
Looking back at these visions now, and their connection with the seals, we see more fully than ever the introductory character the latter have, and how at the same time the seventh seal introduces to the open book itself. The sixth seal is not final judgment, prophetic of it as it may be. It is but as a zephyr compared with the storm-blast, for the winds have not yet been allowed to burst forth as they will. So too the brethren of the fifth-seal martyrs, which are to be slain as they were, have yet to give up their lives. But because the seventh seal, in opening the whole book, brings us face to face with this last and most awful period of the world's history ever to be known, therefore before it is opened, we are summoned apart for the succession of events, to see the gracious purposes which are hidden behind the coming judgments, - to see beyond it, in fact, to the clear blue sky beyond. And we see why these are not seals nor trumpets, but an interruption - a parenthetic instruction, which, coming in the place it does, pushes as it were the seventh seal on to be an eighth section, itself filling the seventh place. If numbers have at all significance, we may surely read them here. The seeming disorder becomes beauteous order: the seventh seal fills the eighth place, as introducing to the new condition of things, the earth's last crisis; the seventh place is filled by that which gives rest to the heart in God's work accomplished, a sabbatism which no restlessness of man man disturb! Let us too rest in thanksgiving, for these are the ways of God.
Part 2: The First Four Trumpets
PART II THE TRUMPETS (Chap. viii. 2 - Xi. i8.)
THE FIRST FOUR TRUMPETS. (Chap. viii. 2 - 13.)
The last seal is loosed, and the book of Revelation lies open before us; yet just here it is undoubtedly true that we have reached the most difficult part of the whole. As we go on, we shall find ourselves in the midst of scenes with which the Old Testament prophets have made us in measure familiar - a part which can be compared in this very prophecy to "a little open book." In the seals, we have found also what was more simple by its very breadth and generality. We have here evidently predictions more definite, and yet the application of which may never be made known to us. as they do not seem to come into that "open book," - do not seem to find their place where the Old Testament can shed its light in the same way upon them. Yet we are not left to that mere "private interpretation" which is forbidden us; and it is well to inquire at the beginning, what helps we have to interpretation from other parts of Scripture.
The series of trumpets is septenary, as we know - just as those of the seals and vials are. Not only so, but, as already said, the here becomes, by the interposed vision between the sixth and seventh, in structure, an 8. And in this, the seals are plainly similar; the vials really, though more obscurely. This naturally invites further comparison; and then at once we perceive that the vials are certainly in other respects also a parallel to the trumpets. In the first of each, the earth is affected; in the second, the sea; in the third, the rivers and fountains of waters; in the fourth, the sun; in the fifth, there is darkness; in the sixth, the river Euphrates is the scene: the general resemblance cannot be doubted.
No such resemblance can be traced if we compare the seals, however; though the similarity of structure should yield us something. The structure itself, so definite and plainly numerical, may speak to those who have ears to hear it, and we shall seek to gain from it what we can. But there is a third witness, whose help we shall do well to avail ourselves of, and that is, the historical interpretation, which just here - strangely as it may seem - is at its plainest. There is a very striking and satisfactory agreement among those of the historical school with regard to the fifth and sixth trumpets at least; and the harmony pleads for some substantial truth in what they agree about. We must at all events inquire as to this.
Strictly, according to the structure, the first five verses of this chapter belong to the seventh seal; but for our purpose it is more convenient to connect them with the trumpet-series, which they introduce. The judgments following they show us to be the answer of God to the cry of His people, though in His heart for them before they cry, This is what the order plainly teaches: "And I saw the seven angels which stand before God, and seven trumpets were given unto them." Thus all is prepared of God beforehand; yet He must be inquired of, to do it for them, and therefore we have next the prayers of all the saints ascending up to God. There is now a union of all hearts together: the common distress leads to united prayer; and He who has given special assurance that He will answer the prayer of two or three that unitedly ask of Him, how can He withdraw Himself from such supplication?
But we see another thing, - the action of the angel at the altar of incense: "And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints ascended up before God out of the angel's hand." Thus the fragrance of Christ's acceptability gives efficacy to His people's prayers a thing perfectly familiar to us as Christians, and which scarcely needs interpretation, but which, as pictured for us here, has this element of strangeness in it - the figure of an angel-priest. Why, if it be Christ who of necessity must take this place, why is He shown us as an angel? "For He taketh not hold of angels, but of the seed of Abraham He taketh hold. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High-Priest in things pertaining to God." (Heb. ii. i6, i7.) If, then, to be the priest men need, He must be made like to men, why does He appear here as an angel, and not as a man?
There is no need for doubt that what has been answered by many is the true explanation, and that the angel-figure here speaks of personal distance still from those for whom yet He intercedes. We have many like examples in Scripture, and one which is of special interest in this connection. Those who appear in the eighteenth of Genesis as "men" to Abraham, go on to Sodom as "angels "in the nineteenth. They go there to deliver Lot., but are not able to show him the intimacy which they show to Abraham. "Just man "as he is, and "vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked," he is yet one "saved so as through the fire." Found, not in his tent door at Mamre, but in the "gate of Sodom," he is one of those righteous men but in an evil place, for whom Abraham intercedes with God, and when delivered, it is said of him that "God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in the midst of which Lot dwelt." (Gen. xix. 29.)
Lot may thus fitly represent this very remnant of Israel at the last, whose prayers are here coming up before God; who have had opportunity to have known the Church's pilgrim path, but have refused it, and to whom Christ is even yet a stranger, though interceding for them. If we remember the priestly character of the heavenly elders in the fifth chapter here, and "their vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints" (v. 8) we may see further resemblance between these pictures so far apart. And how touching is it to see how in the troubles which encompass Lot in Sodom., these angels begin to appear as "men" again! (Gen. XIX. 10, 12, i6.) Sweet grace of God, shining out in the very midst of the trial from which it could not, because of our need of it, exempt us!
Thus the angel-priest, in its very incongruity of thought, exactly suits the place in which we find it. It is "the time of Jacob's trouble," - needed, because he is yet Jacob, but out of which he shall be delivered when its work is once accomplished. (Jer. xxx. 7.) Thus their prayers offered are heard; and, as inheriting on the earth, the answer to them involves the purging of the earth. "And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it unto the earth; and there were voices and thunderings and lightnings, and an earthquake. And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound."
This fire, because from the altar, some have difficulty in believing to be judgment. They remember how a live coal from the altar purged Isaiah's lips, and cannot see how that which has fed upon the sacrifice can be any longer wrath against men. But this is easily answered; for while, where the heart turns to God, this is certainly true, it is in no wise true for those who do not turn. For them, there is no sacrifice that avails; rather it pleads against its rejecters: the wrath of God against sin has not been set aside, but demonstrated an awful reality by the cross; and where the precious blood has not cleanseth from sin, the wrath of God rests only the more heavily on those who slight it. The signs of judgment following are therefore in perfect keeping with the fact that it is the fire of the altar that evokes them, as they are with their being the answer to the prayers of a people who cry (with the saints under the fifth seal, or with the widow to whom the Lord compares them,), "Avenge me of mine adversary." (Luke xviii. 3.)
Every thing finds its place when once we are in the track of the divine thoughts; and in all this there is no difficulty when we have learnt the period to which it applies. It is a suited introduction to the trumpets which follow, and in which, according to the old institution (Num. x. 9), God Himself now declares Himself in behalf of His people, and against their enemies. There is much more difficulty when we come to consider separately the trumpets themselves. "And the first sounded, and there followed hail and fire, mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of the earth was burnt up, and the third part of the trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up."
Hail with fire we find in other parts of Scripture, as in nature also. It is one of the most solemn figures of the divine judgment which nature furnishes. It was one of the plagues of Egypt. In the eighteenth psalm it is found connected with similar judgment. "The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave His voice, - hailstones and coals of fire." Electricity and hail are products of the same cause, a mass of heated air saturated with vapour, rising to a higher level, and meeting the check of a cold current. It is a product of cold, the withdrawal of heat, as darkness is the absence of light; and light and heat, cold and darkness, are akin to one another. Cold stands (with darkness) for the withdrawal of God, as fire (which is both heat and light) for the glow of His presence, which, as against sin, is wrath. And both these things can consist together, however they may seem contradictory - "hailstones and coals of fire" be poured out together. God's forsaking is angry, necessarily, and thus what would be a ministry of refreshment is turned into a storm of judgment. There is a concord of contraries against those that cast off God; for those who love Him, all things work together for good.
The blood mingled is of course a sign of death - a violent death, - and shows the deadly character of this visitation, by which a third part of the prophetic earth is desolated, a third part of the trees burnt up, and prosperity (if the green grass implies that,) everywhere destroyed. This judgment seems to affect, therefore, especially the lower ranks of the people, though, as necessarily would be the case, many of the higher also; but it does not affect especially those in authority. They have not escaped, as we have seen, in the general convulsion under the sixth seal ; - nay, the heavens fleeing away might seem to intimate that the very possibility of true government was departed. Yet this might be while in fact governments go on, and we find in what follows here that they do go on, although never really recovering themselves. Under this trumpet now begins, as it would seem, what shall really cause them to collapse. A people impoverished by that which spares the governing classes, who does not realize the danger to these of such a state of things? And the second trumpet seems to show us in reality what we might anticipate to grow out of this.
"And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain, burning with fire, was cast into the sea; and the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea and had life died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed." The comparison of Babylon to such a mountain (Jer. li. 25) may put us in the track of the meaning here. It is a power mighty, firmly seated and exalted, yet full of volcanic forces in conflict, by which not only her own bowels shall be torn out, but ruin spread around. This cast into the sea of the nations, - already in commotion, as the "sea" implies - produces death and disaster beyond that of the preceding trumpet. Human life is more directly attacked by it. Such a state of eruption was in France at the end of the last century, and may well illustrate (as others have suggested) what seems intended. The fierce outburst of revolt against all forms of monarchy, the fruit of centuries of insolent tyranny under which men had been crushed, set Europe in convulsion. History is full of such portents of that which shall be, and we do well to take heed to them. Especially as the end approaches may we expect to find it so: there is growth on to and preparation for that which at last takes those who have not received the warning by surprise.
The third part of the ships being destroyed would seem naturally to imply the destruction of commerce to this extent, the intercourse between the nations necessarily affected by the reign of terror around. The third trumpet sounds, and a star falls from heaven, burning like a torch. "And it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter."
The heavens are the sphere of government, whether civil or spiritual; a ruler of either kind might be here indicated therefore, and the historical application is in general to Attila, king of the Huns; yet the fall from heaven, the poisoning of the sources of refreshment, as well as the parallel, if not the deeper, connection with the sixth trumpet, seem to point much more strongly to an apostate teacher, by whose fall the springs of spiritual truth should be embittered, causing men to perish. With all the misery that has hitherto been depicted as coming upon men under these apocalyptic symbols, we have not before had any clear intimation of this, which we know, however, to be a principal ingredient in the full cup of bitterness which will then be meted out to men. Because they have not received the love of the truth, that they might be saved, God will send them strong delusion, that they may believe a lie; and here would seem to be the beginning of this.
In the French revolution at the end of the last century, the revolt against the existing governments linked itself with an uprise against Christianity ; and the socialistic and anarchical movements which have followed, with however little present success, are uniformly allied with infidel and atheistic avowals as extreme as any of that time. Russian "nihilism" fulfills its name in demanding "No law, no religion - nihil!" and as the first thing, "Tear out of your hearts the belief in the existence of God." Here is forestalled the one "who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped;" nor is it a contradiction to this that one with such nihilism on his standard should exalt himself into the place of God: the atheist Comte devised for his followers a new worship, with forms borrowed from Rome, and a peremptory spirit, which have gained for it from a noted infidel of the day the title of "Catholicism minus Christianity." This was his proposition, as stated by himself: "The re-organization of human society, without God or king, through the systematic worship of humanity."
This was a delirium! True, but such dreams will come again, as the Word of God declares, in that fever of the world to which, with its quick pulse now, it is fast approaching. Apostasy is written already upon what men would fain have the dawn of a new day, and the being who has raised himself from the chattering ape to link the lightning to his chariot of progress, what shall stay him now? These are the words from the lips of Truth itself: "I am come in My Father's name, and ye receive Me not; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive."
We have already considered in a measure the doctrine of a personal antichrist yet to come, and we shall be repeatedly recalled to the consideration of it as we go on with Revelation. Here it is only the place to say that his birthplace in the book seems to be under this third seal, though his descent more strictly than his rise. He is born of apostasy, as the second epistle to the Thessalonians (chap. 3. 3) would lead us to anticipate.
And now, under the fourth trumpet, a scene occurs which may be compared with that under the sixth seal, but which in the comparison reveals important differences. Then, a convulsion affected (as would appear) the whole earth: now, it is only the governing powers that are affected by it; and that, not every where, but a third part of the sun and of the moon and of the stars, so that the day shines not for a third part of it, and the night likewise. These last words in connection with the similar limitation to a third part in the preceding seals, seem plain enough. The day does not shine in a third part of the sphere of its dominion, nor the night (in its moon and stars) either. Certainly this would not be the natural result of the darkening of a third part of sun and moon, and intimates to us that we have not here a literal phenomenon such as is represented, but figures of other things. Royal or imperial authority has collapsed, with its train of satellites, within such limits as a "third part" may designate; and with this, the first series of the trumpets ends. As ordinarily in these septenary series, the last three are cut off from these first four, which have a certain oneness of application, as the use of this "third part" employed in them throughout also would imply; for the next trumpet has no intimation of this kind. The sixth has it again, but the seventh refuses all such limitation.
The meaning of this trumpet, then, is simple; but its proper significance must be gained from its connection with the series of which it forms a part, and indeed with any prophecies elsewhere which by comparison may throw light upon it.
In general, also, the historical application attains here a consistency which claims attention ; and that there is some substantial truth in it (though not the full truth) there is no need to doubt. The minds of so many of the Lord's people as have explored the book of Revelation by this light have not been left so utterly dark and untaught of the Spirit as to have allowed them to wander utterly astray. Scripture is larger in compass than we think, and this is by no means the only part of prophecy in which a certain fulfillment has anticipated and, as it were, typified the final and exhaustive one. In this very book, those who receive the addresses to the seven churches as prophetic of the history of the professing church at large can surely not deny, or seek to deny, a primary application to churches actually existing in the apostle's day. And here the foundation of the historical interpretation is already laid. The stream of prophecy in the seals and trumpets in this case naturally has its germinant fulfillment from that very time; and if we refuse it, we refuse not only the comfort we should gain from seeing the Lord's control of the whole course of man's spiritual history for so many centuries, but also lose for the final application a guiding clue with which the grace of God has furnished us. That it is not a full, exhaustive fulfillment will not in this case either affect its being a fulfillment. It will be in perfect keeping with its place that it shall not be a complete one; for were it this, no room for the final one would be left.
Now the general interpretation of the first four trumpets applies them to the breaking up of the Roman empire by the barbarian inroads of Goths, Vandals, and Huns, until its final extinction in the west by the hands of Odoacer. The eastern half survived to a latter day, but it was henceforth Grecian rather than Roman, Rome itself, with all that constituted its greatness, - nay, its being, in the days of its ancient glory, having departed from it. This application agrees with the unity of these trumpets, while it gives a sufficient reason for the series coming to an end, and the fifth and sixth trumpets turning now to judgments upon the eastern half, by the hands of Saracen and Turk, the seventh being in its character universal. The Roman empire, let us remember, as the last empire of Daniel's visions, and that which existed in the Lord's lifetime upon earth, and by the authority of which He was crucified, stands as the representative of the world-power in its rebellion against God. (Comp. Ps. ii. with Acts iv. 25 - 28) No wonder, therefore, if its history should be given under these war trumpets, the last of which gives the full victory of Christ over all the opposition. It is consistent with this that Satan in the twelfth chapter of this book should as the dragon be pictured with the seven heads and ten horns of the Roman beast. He is the spiritual prince of this world, and in this way is clothed with the power of the world, which we see here again is Roman.
So again, the "earth," which both in Greek and Hebrew may mean "land," and is often by no means the equivalent of the world, seems almost constantly in these prophecies, till the final one, to be the Roman earth, the territory of the Roman empire in its widest, and of which the western part seems to be the "third part" mentioned in the trumpets. As to this third part, Mr. Elliott urges, that during the period of these early trumpets, "the Roman world was, in fact, divided into three parts, viz., the Eastern (Asia Minor, Syria, Arabia, Egypt); the Central (Mysia, Greece, Illyricum, Rhaetia); the Western (Italy, Gaul, Britain, Spain, north-western Africa); and that the third, or western, part was destroyed."
Others would make the "third part" equivalent to the territory peculiar to the third beast of Daniel, or the Greek empire; but this seems certainly not the truth: for in this case, according to the historical interpretation, the end of the eastern empire must be found under the fourth trumpet, whereas the fifth trumpet goes back before this, to introduce the Saracens!
Of all interpretations, that only seems consistent which applies the "third part" to the western part of the Roman earth, and in this way the term may have a further significance, as that part in which the Roman empire is yet to revive again, as it will revive for judgment in the latter days, - the "third" being very often connected in Scripture, as is well known, with the thought of resurrection.
The Roman empire has indeed long been extinct, both in the west and in the east, and it is of this very extinction that the historical interpretation of the trumpets speaks, yet the voice of prophecy clearly assures us that it must be existing at the time of the end, when, because of the words of the little horn, judgment comes down upon it.
(Dan. vii. ii.) The nineteenth chapter of this book unites with the book of Daniel in this testimony: for it is when the Lord appears that the beast is seen, along with the kings of the earth, arrayed in opposition against Him. Thus it is plain that the Roman empire must be existent at the end. It has yet, therefore, to rise again, and in the thirteenth chapter we see it, in fact, rising out of the sea: while in the seventeenth, where the woman Babylon has her seat upon it, it is said, "The beast that thou sawest was, and is not, and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition." (v. 8.) So it is called, "The beast that was, and is not, and shall come." (v. 5, R. V.)
Nothing can be much plainer than the fact that the Roman empire will revive again. But not only so; it is also declared by the same sure Word that it will revive to be smitten again in one of its heads, and apparently to death, yet its wound is healed and it lives. (chap. xii. 3, 12, 14.) It is after this that it becomes idolatrous, as Daniel has intimated to us it will, and all the world wonders after it. (ve. 2, 8, 12.)
It is not yet the place to go fully into this, but so much is clear as enables us to see how the historical interpretation of these trumpets points, or may point, to a future fulfillment of them. One other thing which the book of Revelation notes will make more complete our means of interpretation.
The beast, as seen in Revelation, has seven heads, or kings; and these are successive rulers - or forms of rule - over the empire: for "five," says the angel, "are fallen, and one is, and another is yet to come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space." the heads, then, in this primary view, are seven, but five had passed away - commentators quote them from Livy - the sixth, the imperial power, existed at that time: the seventh was wholly future, and, in contrast with the long continuance of the sixth, would continue only a short space.
But there is an eighth head, and the beast himself is this. The last statement has been supposed to mean that the head exercised the whole authority of the empire; but it would seem nothing strange for the head of empire to exercise imperial authority. Does it not rather mean that the beast that is seen all through these chapters is the beast of this eighth head?
But the seventh head, where does it come in? There are some things that would seem to give us help with regard to this. For the empire plainly collapsed under its sixth head, and the seventh could not be until the empire again existed. There are questions here that have to be settled with the historical interpretation; but in the meantime the course of the trumpets as we have already followed it, confirmed by their historical interpretation also, would suggest that we have in them, and indeed from the commencement of the seals, the history of the seventh head. The rider upon the white horse, to whom a crown is given, may well be the person under whom the empire is at first re-established. And of such an one Napoleon, though not (as some have thought) the seventh head himself, may be well the foreshadow. The sixth seal does not point to his overthrow: it is a wider, temporary convulsion which affects all classes - high and low together; and in the pause that follows, they would seem to recover themselves. The trumpets begin, however, at once to threaten overthrow. The very escape of the governing classes under the first trumpet seems to prepare the way for the outburst under the second, which is an eruption from beneath, - fierce with passionate revolt; to which is added, under the third, apostasy, the giving up of the restraint of divine government, soon to grow into the last, worst form of Christianity according to Satan - Antichrist: the opposition to incarnate Deity of deified humanity.
The result is, under the fourth trumpet, as it would appear, the imperial power smitten, the seventh head wounded to death, and with it the recently established empire overthrown beyond mere human power to revive again. But this brings in the help of one mightier than man - the awful power of Satan, working with an energy proportionate to the shortness of the time which is now his. The beast arises out of the abyss, its deadly wound is healed; the dragon gives him his power and throne and great authority; and all the world wonders and worships. (chap. xiii. 2 - 4.)
Then indeed it is "Woe! woe! woe! to the inhabiters of the earth."
THE FIRST WOE.
(Chap. ix. 1 - 12.)
At the sound of the fifth trumpet a star is seen, not to fall, as the common version puts it, but already fallen from heaven to earth. This seems naturally to connect thus with the apostasy under the third trumpet, nor is it likely that the apostasy of any other should be as noteworthy as his whose course is recorded here. At all events, it is an apostate, surely, that is before us, and to him is committed "the key of the abyss."
The force of the words have first of all to be considered. A "pit" is in the Old Testament often a synonym for a dungeon, and every thing unites to show this to be the meaning here ; while the "abyss " is not other than the pit itself, but only a further definition of it the dungeon which is the abyss. So the demons pray that they may not be sent into the deep, or "abyss" (Luke viii. 31), and Satan is, in the twentieth chapter, shut up there. In the Old Testament parallel to the same in Revelation, it is said, "They shall be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in prison." (Isa. xxiv. 22.) Here the abyss is the "pit," or prison, clearly. The key is used in this place as in the later one - here, the "key of the pit of the abyss;" there, simply "the key of the abyss." The abyss is not, however, "hell " - the "lake of fire,"- as we may see by the fact that it is, in one passage (Rom. x. 7), used in connection with the Lord: "Who shall descend into the deep (the abyss)? - that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead." Here, as the heavens are inaccessible to man for height, so is the abyss for depth. The literal meaning (" bottomless ") must not be pressed, as our own use of the word shows, and the Greek was similar ; the Septuagint use it for the "deep" upon which darkness rested on the first day.
The connection of the "pit" with the state of the dead in the Old Testament is similar to that of the "abyss" here in the New. We have this again in Revelation, where the "beast," in its last phase, is said to come up out of the abyss. This seems naturally to refer to the wounding to death, and revival (chap. xiii. 3, 12, 14). Some have even contended, seeing the identification of the beast (the empire) with its last head (chap. xvii. ii), for the literal resurrection of a person in this case; but this is only a wild extravagance: for resurrection literally could only be from God, and the beast in its last form is wholly under the power of Satan. (xiii. I, 2). The rising up out of the abyss is figurative, therefore, as the beast itself is; and indeed the use of the word seems figurative throughout.
Now Christ has "the keys of hades and of death" (chap. i. i8); and it is not to be imagined that He should give up into the hand of an apostate, whether man or spirit, any portion of His own authority. We must not think, therefore, (as has been done,) of a literal opening of hades, and an irruption of the spirits of the lost upon the earth. Fancies like these easily gain ascendency over a certain class of minds; and yet who could seriously maintain such an outbreak of wickedness on the part of those shut up, like the rich man in hades, to await judgment? Were it so, there would be "deeds done" out of the body, as well as "in the body," to give account of in the day of judgment. But, in fact, the locusts are not said even to come out of the pit. Nothing is said to come out of it but the smoke which darkens the sun and air; and out of the smoke the locusts come. It may be natural to think that, after all, they cannot be bred of the smoke, and that they must come with the smoke out of the pit; but naturalistic interpretations may easily deceive us, where the spiritual sense is the whole matter, and for the spiritual meaning there is no difficulty. The smoke is not, as in other places, the smoke of torment, but the fumes of malign spiritual influences which darken the air and the supreme source of light itself. Out of this darkness we can easily understand the locusts to be bred.
It is quite in accordance with their origin that their power should be represented as that of the scorpions of the earth - that is, in their poisonous sting - and their distinction from natural locusts is seen in this, that they do not touch the locusts' food, but are a plague only upon men, and these the unsealed. Remembering that it is in Israel that the sealing is found, the inference seems just that these unsealed ones are Israelites, and the sphere of this plague is in the east. They do not kill - as, in general, the scorpion does not, - but inflict torment to which death is preferable; and their power lasts five months.
We next find them pictured as warriors - a military power subordinated to what is their grand interest and aim, the propagation of poisonous falsehood. Thus "the shapes of the locusts were like horses prepared unto battle;" and, as in the certainty of triumph beforehand, "upon their heads were as it were crowns like gold." Little matter of real triumph had they, as the limiting words here show. "Their faces were as faces of men" also, - they had the dignity and apparent independence of such; while yet "they had hair as the hair of women," being in the fullest subjection to the dark and dreadful power that ruled over them. "Their teeth as the teeth of lions" show the savage, tenacious grip with which they can hold their prey; their breastplates of iron, perhaps, the fence of a hardened conscience; the sound of their wings, like that of the locust-hosts they resemble, conveys the hopeless terror which they inspire. Finally, we are again told of their scorpion-stings, and their power to hurt men five months.
They have a king over them - the angel of the abyss, whose name is given, almost exactly the same in meaning, in Hebrew and in Greek. The use of the Hebrew unites, with other indications we have had, to assure us that it is upon Israel that this woe comes, while the Greek no less plainly indicates that the angel here has also to do with the Gentiles: according to both, he is the "destroyer;" and it is natural to think of Satan in such connections, while it seems not probable that the angel of the abyss is the same person with the fallen star.
The historical application in this case is one in which there is great unanimity among interpreters. They apply it to Mohammed, and the Saracens, whose astonishing successes were manifestly gained under the inspiration of a false religion. They came in swarms from the very country of the locusts, and their turbaned heads with men's beards and women's hair, their cuirasses, the sparing of the trees and corn, and even of life where there was submission, with their time of prevalence, according to the year-day reckoning, one hundred and fifty years, - all these things have been pointed out as fulfillment of the vision. It has been objected, on the other hand, that such points as these are below the dignity of Scripture, and that the terms are moral. While this is surely true if we think of the full intention, it is to be considered, on the other hand, whether God does not allow and intend oftentimes a correspondence between such outward things and what is deeper, just as the face of a man may be a real index to his spirit. Just because they are external, they are well fitted to strike the imagination; and the parable is, as we know, a very common method of instruction every where in Scripture. Thus God would open our eyes to see what is indeed all around us; and to stop at what is external, or to ignore it, is alike an error.
In any case, and for reasons which we have already considered, we cannot take this Saracenic scourge as any complete fulfillment of the locust vision. Nor can we, on the other hand, connect it as fully and certainly with other prophecy as would be necessary for very clear interpretation. What seems indicated, however, with regard to its final fulfillment in a time yet to come, is the rise and propagation of that delusion to which we know both the mass of mere Christian profession and of the unbelieving Jews will in the end surrender themselves. (2 Thess. ii.) The antichrist of that time will be, there is little doubt, both an apostate from Christianity and from the faith of his Jewish fathers (Dan. xi. 37); and his apostasy will remove (under divine permission) the present restraint upon the power of evil. It will be as if the abyss had opened its mouth to darken the light of heaven; a mist of confusion will roll in upon men's minds, which will under satanic influence soon find definite expression in forms of blasphemy and a host of armed adherents ready to force upon others the doctrines of the pit. As has been said, it is apparently with Israel that this trumpet has to do, but yet the Greek name of the leader seems to speak also of the connection with the Gentiles. If the application here made be the true one, then we know that the "wicked one" will not be a Jewish false Christ merely, but will also head the apostasy of Christendom. In this sense also it may be that the "beast" under its last head - the revived Roman empire - is said to come up out of tile abyss, its actual revival being due to the dark and dreadful power which is presented to us here, - so exceeding in malignity all that has preceded it, that its advent is called, in the language of inspiration, "the first woe."
The Sixth Trumpet
(Chap. ix. 12 - 21.)
In these trumpet judgments we are, as has been already seen, traversing some of the most difficult parts of the book of New-Testament prophecy. This is owing largely to the fact that the link with the Old Testament seems very much to fail us, and thus the great rule for interpretation which Peter gives us can be acted on only with proportionate difficulty. Moreover, in the case of symbols such as we have before us, the application is of the greatest importance to the interpretation, and the application is just the fitting of the individual prophecy into the prophetic whole. We have need, therefore, to look carefully, and to speak with a caution corresponding to the difficulty.
A certain connection of the trumpets among themselves, however, we have been able to trace, and this we should expect still to discover, every fresh step in this confirming the past and gaining for itself thus greater assurance. Moreover, the general teaching of prophecy will assist and control our thoughts, although we may be unable to show the relation to each other of single predictions, such as we find for instance in comparing the fourth beast of Daniel with the first of Revelation.
A voice from the horns of the golden altar brings on the second woe. It is natural at first sight to connect this with the opening of the eighth chapter, and to see in it an answer to the prayers of the saints with which the incense of the altar is offered up. But this view becomes less satisfactory as we consider it, if only for the reason that the whole of the seven trumpets are in answer to the prayers of the saints, as we have seen, and to make the sixth trumpet specifically this would seem in contradiction. Besides, a voice from the horns of the altar, or even from the altar, would scarcely convey the thought of an answer to the prayers that came up from the altar. The horns too were not in any special relation to the offering of incense, but were for the blood of atonement, which was put upon them either to make atonement for the altar itself, or for the sin of the high-priest or of the congregation of Israel. A voice of judgment from these horns, - still more emphatic if we read, as it seems we should do, "one voice from the four horns," - so different from the usual pleading in behalf of the sinner, speaks of profanation of the altar, or of guilt for which no atonement could be found; and, one would say, of such guilt resting upon the professed people of God, whether this were Israel or that Christendom which Israel often pictures.
If with this thought in our mind we look back to what has taken place under the last trumpet, there seems at once a very distinct connection. If the rise of Antichrist be indeed what is represented there, then we can see how the horns of the altar, from which he has caused sacrifice and oblation to cease (Dan. ix. 27), should call for judgment upon himself and those who have followed him, whether Jews or Gentiles. In the passage just quoted from Daniel it is added, "And because of the wing of abominations there shall be a desolator." In the sixth trumpet we have just such a desolator.
The Euphrates was the boundary of the old Roman empire, and there the four angels are "bound " - "restrained," it may be, by the power of the empire itself, until, having risen up against God, their own hands have thrown down the barrier, and the hordes from without enter upon their mission to "slay the third part of men," a term which we have seen as probably indicating the revived Roman empire. Here, too, is the seat of the beast's supremacy and of the power of Antichrist. Thus there seems real accordance in these several particulars; and in this way the trumpet judgments give us a glance over the prophetic field, if brief, yet complete, as otherwise they would not appear to be. Moreover, when we turn to the thirty-eighth and thirty-ninth chapters of Ezekiel to find the (desolator of the last days (chap. XXXVIII. 17), we find in fact the full array of nations from the other side of the Euphrates pouring in upon the land of Israel, while the connection of that land with Antichrist and with the Roman empire is plainly shown us in Daniel and in Revelation alike. If the Euphrates be the boundary of the empire, it is also Israel 's as declared by God, and the two are already thus far identified their connection spiritually and politically we shall have fully before us in the more detailed prophecy to come.
But why four angels and what do they symbolise? The restraint under which they were marks them sufficiently as opposing powers, and would exclude the thought of holy angels nor is it probable that they are literal angels at all. They would seem representative powers, and in the historical application have been taken to refer to the fourfold division of the old Turkish empire into four kingdoms prior to the attack upon the empire of the East. If such an interpretation is to be made in reference to the final fulfillment, then it is noteworthy that Gog, of the land of Magog, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal," - as the R.V., with most commentators, reads it now, - gives (under one head, indeed,) four separate powers as principal associates in this latter-day irruption. Others there are, but coming behind and apart, as in their train. I mention this for what it may be worth. It is at least a possible application, and therefore not unworthy of serious consideration, while it (does not exclude a deeper and more penetrative meaning.
The angels are prepared for the hour and day and month and year, that they might slav the third part of men. The immense hosts, two hundred millions in number, are perfectly in the hand of a Master, - time, work, and limit carefully apportioned by eternal Wisdom, the evil in its fullest development servant to the good. The horses seem to he of chief importance and must dwelt upon. Their their riders arc first described, but only as to their "breast-plates of fire and hyacinth and brimstone." These answer to the "fire and smoke and brimstone" out of the horses' mouths: divine judgment of which they are the instruments making them thus invincible while their work is being done. The horses have heads like lions ; destruction comes with an open front - the judgment of God: so that the human hands that direct it are of the less consequence, - divine wrath is sure to find its executioners.
God's judgment is foremost in this infliction, but there is also Satan's power in it: the horses' tails are like serpents, and have heads, and with these they do hurt. Poisonous falsehood characterizes this time when men are given up to believe a lie. Death, physical and spiritual, are in league together, and the destruction is terrible ; but those that escape are not delivered from their sins, which, as we see, are, in the main, idolatrous worship, with things that naturally issue out of this. The genealogy of evil is as recorded in the first of Romans: the forsaking of God leads to all other wickedness ; but here it is where His full truth has been rejected, and the consequences are so much the more terrible and disastrous.
THE LITTLE OPEN BOOK.
We have already seen that in the trumpets, as in the seals, there is a gap, filled up with a vision, between the sixth and seventh, so as to make the seventh structurally an eighth section. This corresponds, moreover, to the meaning; for the seventh trumpet introduces the kingdom of Christ on earth, which, although the third and final woe upon the dwellers on the earth, is on the other hand the beginning of a new condition, and an eternal one. With this octave a chord is struck which vibrates through the universe.
The interposed vision is in both series, therefore, a seventh, with a meaning corresponding to the number of perfection. At least, so it is in the series of the seals, and we may be sure we shall find no failure in this case: failure in the book of God, even in the minutest point, - our Lord's "jot or tittle," - is an impossibility. Nothing is more beautiful of its kind than the way in which all this prophetic history yields itself to the hand that works in all and controls all: thank God, we know whose hand.
But the vision of the trumpet series is very unlike that of the seals, and its burden of sorrow different indeed from that sweet inlet into beatific rest. We shall find, however, that it vindicates its position none the less. As in the work, so in the word of God, with a substantial unity, there is yet a wonderful variety, never a mere repetition, which would imply that God had exhausted Himself. As you cannot find two leaves in a forest just alike, so you cannot find two passages of Scripture that are just alike, when they are carefully and intelligently considered. The right use of parallel passages must take in the consideration of the diversity and unity alike.
In the vision before us there is first of all seen the descent of a strong angel from heaven. As yet, no descent of this kind has been seen. In the corresponding vision in the seal series, an angel ascends from the east, but here he descends, and from heaven. A more positive direct action of heaven upon the earth is implied, power acting, though not yet the great power under the seventh trumpet when the kingdom of Christ is come. This being, apparently angelic, is "clothed with a cloud," - a vail about him, which would seem to indicate a mystery either as to his person or his ways. It does not say "the cloud," - what Israel saw as the sign of the presence of the Lord, - otherwise there could be no doubt as to who was here : yet in His actions presently He is revealed to faith as truly what the cloud intimates. It is Christ acting as Jehovah, though yet personally hidden, and in behalf of Israel., among whom the angel of Jehovah walked thus appareled. It is only the cloud; the brightness which is yet there has not shone forth: faith has to penetrate the cloud to enter the Presence chamber: yet is He there, and in a form that intimates His remembrance of the covenant of old, and on His own part some correspondent action.
So also the rainbow (which we last saw round the throne of God) encircles His head. Joy is coming after sorrow, refreshing after storm, the display of God's blessed attributes at last, though in that which passes, a glory that endureth. And this is coming nearer now, in Him who descends to earth. But His face is as the sun there indeed we see Him; who else has such a face? In our sky there are not two suns: our orbit is a circle, not an ellipse. His face is above the cloud with which He is encircled: heaven knows Him for what He is; the earth not yet; though on the earth may be those who are in heaven's secret. But His feet are like pillars of fire, and these are what are first in contact with the earth, the indication of ways which are in divine holiness, necessarily, therefore, in judgment, while the earth mutters and grows dark with rebellion.
Now we have what reveals to us whereto we have arrived: "And he had in his hand a little book opened." the seventh seal opens a book which had been seen in heaven; the seventh section here shows us another book now open, but a little book. It had not the scope and fullness of the other: we hear nothing of how the writing fills up and overflows the page. It is a little book which has been till now shut up, but is no longer shut up, - a book too whose contents, evidently connected with the action of the angel here, has to do with the earth simply, not with heaven also, as the seven-sealed book has. We have in this what should lead us to what the book is; for the characteristic of Old Testament prophecy is just this, that it opens to us the earthly, not the heavenly things. Its promises are Israel 's, the earthly people (Rom. ix. 4), and it deals fully with the millennial kingdom, and the convulsions which are its birth-throes. Beyond the millennium, except in that brief reference to the new heavens and earth to which Peter refers, it does not go; and the "new heavens" are not our blessed portion, but the earth-heavens, as Peter very distinctly shows. There is no heavenly city there in prospect; there is no rule over the earth on the part of Christ's co-heirs, such as we have already found in the song of Revelation. All this the Christian revelation adds to the Old Testament; while in Revelation the millennium is passed over with the briefest notice. Here for the first time indeed we get its limits set, and see how short it is, while the main thing dwelt upon as to it is with whom shall be filled those thrones which Daniel sees "placed," but sees not the occupants (chap. vii.). Thus it is plain how the book of Old Testament prophecy is, comparatively with the New, "a little book."
It is fully owned and maintained that when we look, with the aid of the New Testament, beyond the letter, we can find more than this. Types there are and shadows, and that every where, in prophecy as well as history, of greater things. Earth itself and earthly things may be and are symbols of heaven and the heavenly. The summer reviving out of winter speaks of resurrection; the very food we feed on preaches life through death. And so more evidently the Old Testament: for Revelation, completing the cycle of the divine testimony, brings us back to paradise, as type of a better one; and the latest unfolding of what had been for ages hidden, shows us in Adam and his Eve Christ and the Church.
But this manifestly leaves untouched the sense in which Old Testament prophecy may be styled "a little book." The application here is also easy. For in fact the Old Testament prophecy as to the earth has been for long a thing waiting for that fulfillment which shall manifest and illumine it. Israel outcast from her land, upon whom the blessing of the earth waits, all connected with this waits. We may see now, indeed, as in some measure we see their faces set once more toward their land, that other things also are arranging themselves preparatory to the final accomplishment. But yet the proper fulfillment of them is not really begun.
In the meanwhile, though the Lord is fulfilling His purposes of grace, and taking out from among the Gentiles a people for His name, as to the earth, it is "man's day." (i Cor. iv. 3, marg.) When He shall have completed this, and having gathered the heavenly saints to heaven, shall put to His hand in order to bring in the blessing for the earth, then the day of the Lord will begin in necessary judgment, that the inhabitants of the world may learn righteousness. (Is. xxvi. 9.) This day of the Lord begins, therefore, before the appearing of the Lord, for which it prepares the way: the dawn of day is before the sunrise.
The apostle, in warning the Thessalonians against the error of supposing that the day of the Lord was come (2 Thess. ii. 2, R. V.), gives them what would be a sign immediately preceding it: "For that day," he says, "shall not come except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." The manifestation of the man of sin is therefore the bell that tolls in solemnly the day of the Lord.
This would seem to be the opening, then, of the "little book." Thenceforth the prophecies of the latter day become clear and intelligible. Now the apostasy has been shown, as it would seem, in its beginning under the fifth trumpet, and the man of sin may well be the one spoken of there: thus the little book may be fittingly now seen as opened, and in the continuation of the vision here we find for the first time the "beast," the "wild beast" of Daniel, in full activity (chap. xi. 7). All, therefore, seems connected and harmonious; and we are emerging out of the obscure borderland of prophecy into the place where the concentrated rays of its lamp are found.
We see too how rapidly the end draws near: "And he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left upon the earth; and he cried with a great voice, as when a lion roareth." It is the preparatory voice of Judah's Lion, as "suddenly his anger kindles;" and the seven thunders, - the full divine voice, - the whole government of God in action, - answers it; but what they utter has to find its interpretation at a later time.
Meanwhile, the attitude of the angel is explained: "and the angel which I saw standing upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his right hand to heaven, and sware by Him that liveth forever and ever, who created the heavens, and the things that are therein, and the earth, and the things that are therein, and the sea, and the things that are therein, that there should be delay no longer; but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound " - when he shall sound, as he is about to do, - " then is finished the mystery of God, according to the good tidings which He hath declared to His servants the prophets."
All is of a piece: the prophetic testimony, (the testimony of the little open book,) is now to be suddenly consummated, which ends only with the glories of Christ's reign over the earth. Amid all the confusion and evil of days so full of tribulation, that except they were mercifully shortened, no flesh should be saved (Matt. xxiv. 22), yet faith will be allowed to reckon the very days of its continuance, which in both Daniel and Revelation are exactly numbered. How great the relief in that day of distress! and how sweet the compassion of God that has provided it after this manner! "He that endureth to the end shall be saved," - shall find deliverance speedy and effectual, and find it in the coming of that Son of Man whose very title is a gospel of Peace, and whose hand will accomplish the deliverance. Here has been an apparent long delay: "There shall be delay no longer." Man's day has run to its end, and, though in cloud and tempest, the day of the Lord at last is dawning. Then the mystery of God is finished: the mystery of the first prophecy of the woman's Seed, and in which the whole conflict between good and evil is summarized and foretold. What a mystery it has been! and how unbelief, even in believers, has stumbled over the delay! The heel of the Deliverer bruised: a victory of patient suffering to precede and insure the final victory of power! Meantime, the persistence and apparent triumph of evil, by which are disciplined the heirs of glory! Now, all is indeed at last cleared up; the mystery of God (needful to be a mystery while patience wrought its perfect work,) is forever finished the glory of God shines like the sun; faith is now completely justified! the murmur of doubt forever silenced.
Thus the sea and the land already, even while the days of trouble last, know the step of the divine angel, claiming earth and sea for Christ. And now faith (as in the prophet) is to devour the book of these wondrous communications, sweet in the mouth, yet at present bitter in digestion, for the last throes of the earth's travail are upon her. By and by this trouble will be no more remembered for the joy that the birth of a new day is come, - a day prophesied of by so many voices without God, but a day which can only come when God shall wipe away the tears from off all faces. And it comes; it comes quickly now: the voice heard by the true Philadelphian is, "I come quickly." Come, Lord, and "destroy the face of the covering that is cast over all peoples, and the vail that is spread over all nations;" come, and swallow up death in victory, and take away the reproach of Thy people from off all the earth; come, that faith may say in triumph, "Lo, this is our God: we have waited for Him, and He will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation."
(Chap. xi. 1 - 14.)
The last words of the preceding chapter receive their explanation from what we have seen to be the character of the little open book. If this be Old Testament prophecy that is now "open," then we can see how John has at this point to "prophesy again," not "before," but "over," - that is, "concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings." He is to take up the strain of the old prophets, not, of course, merely to echo their predictions, but to add to them a complementary and final testimony.
Accordingly we find now what carries us back to those prophecies of Daniel which were briefly reviewed in our introductory chapter. The mention of the "beast," and of the precise period of "forty-two months," or "twelve hundred and sixty days," - that is, the half-week of his last or seventieth week, previous to the coming in of blessing for Israel and the earth, is by itself conclusive. This week we have seen to be, in fact, divided in this way by the taking away of the daily sacrifice in the midst of it (Dan. ix. 27). It is by this direct opposition to God also that the man of sin is revealed. Hence it would seem clear that it is with the last half of the week that we have here to do.
A reed like a staff is now given to the prophet that he may measure with it the temple of God. If a reed might suggest weakness, as in fact all that is of God lies at the time contemplated under such a reproach, the words, "like a staff" suggest the opposite thought. God's care for his people implied in this measurement is to unbelief indeed a mystery, for they seem exposed to the vicissitudes of other men, yet is it a staff upon which one may lean with fullest confidence. This measurement of things abides, perfect righteousness and absolute truth, abiding necessarily as such.
The temple of God is, of course, the Jewish temple, and though not to be taken literally, still, as all its connections here assure us, stands for Jewish worship, and not Christian, though a certain application, as in the historical interpretaion, need not be denied. The altar, as distinct from the temple proper, is, I believe, the altar of burnt-offering, upon which, indeed, for Israel., all depended. It was there God met with the people (Ex. xxix. 43), although, as we contemplate things here, the mass of the nation was in rejection, the court given up to the Gentiles, the holy city to be trodden under foot by them, only a remnant of true worshipers acknowledged. It may be said that the altar of burnt-offering stood in the court; but the idea connected with each is different. The court, however, being given up, the worshippers recognized must have the sanctuary opened for them: in the rejection of the mass, God brings the faithful few nearer to Himself. This is His constant grace.
"And the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months." The " holy city" can speak but of one city on earth; nor can there be justifiable doubts as to the place in prophecy of this half-week of desolation. The mixture of literal and figurative language will be no cause of stumbling to any one who has carefully considered the style of all these apocalyptic visions, which are evidently not intended to carry their significance upon their face. All must be fully weighed, must be self.consistent, and fitting into its place in connection with the whole prophetic plan. Thus alone can we have clearness and certainty as to interpretation.
As a man, then, who has been sunk in a long dream of sorrow, but to whom is now brought inspiriting news of a joy in which he is called to have an active part, - as an Elijah at another Horeb after the wind and the earthquake and the fire have passed and He whom he had sought - the Lord - is not in these, but who is aroused at once by the utterance of the "still, small voice," - so the prophet here is bidden to rise and measure the temple of God. Not so unlike, either, to the measure given to the elder prophet, of seven thousand men that had not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. How speedy and thorough a relief when God is brought into the scene! and from what scene is He really absent? How animating, how courageous a thing, then, is faith that recognizes Him!
And where He is there must be a testimony to Him. We find it, therefore, immediately in this case: "And I will give power unto My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand, two hundred, and threescore days clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive-trees, and the two candlesticks which stand before the Lord of the earth."
The reference is plain to Zechariah (chap. iv.), but there are also differences which are plain. There it is the thing itself accomplished, to which here there is but testimony, and in humiliation, though there is power to maintain it, spite of all opposition, till the time appointed. The witnesses are identified with their testimony - that to which they bear witness. Hence the resemblance. They stand before the Lord of the earth, - the One to whom the earth belongs, to maintain His claim upon it: in sackcloth, because their claim is resisted; a sufficient testimony in the power of the Spirit, a spiritual light amidst the darkness, but which does not banish darkness.
"And if any man desireth to hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth and devoureth their enemies; and if any man shall desire to hurt them, in this manner must be be killed. These have power to shut the heaven that it rain not during the days of their prophecy; and they have power over the waters, to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague as often as they shall desire."
Here is not the grace of Christianity, but the ministry of power after the manner of Elijah and of Moses: judgment which must come because grace has been ineffectual, and of which the issue shall be in blessing, for "when Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world shall learn righteousness." (Isa. xxvi. 9.)
The association of Elijah with Moses, which is evident here, of necessity reminds us of their association also on the mount of transfiguration, wherein, as a picture, was presented "the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Pet. i. i6 18.) They are here in the same place of attendance upon their coming Lord. It does not follow, however, that they are personally present, as some have thought, and that the one has had preserved to him, the other will have restored to him, his mortal body for that purpose.
The preservation to Elijah of a mortal body in heaven seems a thought weird and unscriptural enough, with all its necessary suggestions also. But the closing prophecy of the Old Testament does announce the sending of Elijah the prophet before the great and dreadful day of the Lord. Is not this proof that so he must come?
Naturally, one would say so; but our Lord's words as to John the Baptist, on the other hand, - " If ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come," - raise question. It has been answered that his own words deny that he was really Elias, and that Israel did not receive him, and so John could not be Elias to them. Both things are true, and yet do not seem satisfactory as argument. That he was not Elias literally, only shows, or seems to show, that one who was not Elias could, under certain conditions, have fulfilled the prediction. While other words of the Lord - " I say unto you that Elias is come already, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed " - show even more strongly that for that day and generation he was Elias. Why, then, could not another, coming in his spirit and power, fulfill the prophecy in the future day?
This Revelation seems to confirm, inasmuch as it speaks of two witnesses who are both marked as possessing the spirit and power of Elias, and who stand on an equal footing as witnesses for God. Had it been one figure before the eyes here, it would have been more natural to say it is Elias himself; but here are two doing his work, nor can we think of a possible third behind and unnoticed and yet the real instrument of God in this crisis. The two form this Elias ministry, which is to recall the hearts of the fathers to the children, and of the children to the fathers, and who both lay down their lives as the seal of their testimony. Put all this together, and does it not seem as if Elias appeared in others raised up of God and indued with His Spirit, to complete the work for which he was raised up in Israel ?
Much more would all this hinder the reception of the thought of any personal appearance of Moses, while there is no prediction at all of any such thing. Jude's words (which have been adduced) as to the contention of Michael with Satan about the body of the lawgiver may well refer to the fact that the Lord had buried him, and no man knew of his sepulcre. Satan may well, for his own purposes, have desired to make known his grave, just as God in His wisdom chose to hide it.
Yet the appearance of Moses and Elias in connection with the appearing of the Lord, as seen on the mount of transfiguration, seems none the less to connect itself with these two witnesses and their work, - both caught away in like manner into the "cloud," as the twelfth verse ought to read. And Malachi, just before the declaration of the THE Witnesses 119 mission of Elias, bids them, on God's part, "remember the law of Moses My servant." Moses must do his work as well as Elias; for it is upon their turning in heart to the law of Moses that their blessing in the last days depends; and thus we find the power of God acting in their behalf in the likeness of what He wrought upon Egypt: the witnesses "have power over waters, to turn them to blood." It is not that Moses is personally among them, but that Moses is in this way witnessing for them; and so the vials after this emphatically declare.
God thus, during the whole time of trouble and apostasy, preserves a testimony for Himself, until at the close the final outrage is permitted which brings down speedy judgment. For "when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom ' and Egypt.,' where also their Lord was crucified. And from among the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations do men look upon their dead bodies three days and a half, and suffer not their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. And they that dwell upon the earth rejoice over, them and make merry; and they shall send gifts to one another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwell on the earth. And after the three days and a half, the breath of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which beheld them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither.' And they went up into heaven in the cloud; and their enemies beheld them. And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell ; and there were killed in the earthquake seven thousand persons: and the rest were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven."
If the twelve hundred and sixty days of the prophetic testimony agree with the last half of the closing week of Daniel, they coincide with the time of the beast's permitted power, and the death of the witnesses is his last political act. That a certain interval of time should follow before his judgment, which takes place under the third and not the second woe, does not seem to conflict with chap. xiii. 5, where it should read, "power was given unto him to practice " - not "continue," - " forty and two months." The last act of tyranny may have been perpetrated in the slaying of the witnesses; and indeed it seems a thing fitted to be the close of power of this kind permitted him. With this the storm-cloud of judgment arises, which smites him down shortly after.
If, however, the duration of the testimony be for the first half of the week, then the power of the beast begins with the slaughter of the witnesses, and the three and a half years' tribulation follows, which does not seem to consist with the judgment and its effects three and a half days afterward. Then, too, "the second woe is past" and the third announces the kingdom of Christ as having come. But we shall yet consider this more closely when we come, if the Lord will, to the interpretation of the vials.
Here, then, for the first time, the beast out of the abyss comes plainly into the scene. In Daniel, and in Rev. xiii., he does not come out of the abyss, but out of the sea; but in the seventeenth chapter he is spoken of as "about to come up out of the abyss," showing undeniably that it is the same "beast" as Daniel's fourth one, - the Roman empire. In the first case, as coming out of the sea, it has a common origin with the other three empires - the Babylonian, Persian, and Grecian - out of the heaving deep of Gentile nations. Then we find in Revelation what from Daniel we should never have expected, but what in fact has certainly taken place, - that the empire which is to meet its judgment at the coming of the Lord does not continue uninterruptedly in power till then. There is a time in which it ceases to be, - and we can measure this time of non-existence already by centuries, - and then it comes back again in a peculiar form, as from the dead: "the beast that was and is not, and shall be present." (Chap. xvii. 8.) This rising again into existence we would naturally take as its coming up out of the abyss, - out of the death state, - and think that we were at the bottom of the whole matter. The truth seems to be not quite so simple, but here is not the place to go into it further.
For the present, it is enough to say that the coming up out of the abyss is in fact a revival out of the death state, but, as a comparison with the fifth trumpet may suggest, revival by the dark and demon influences which are there represented as in attendance upon the angel of the abyss. It is the one in whom is vested the power of the revived empire who concentrates the energy of his hatred against God in the slaying of the witnesses.
The place of their death is clearly Jerusalem : "Their dead bodies lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt.,' where also their Lord was crucified." Certainly no other place could be so defined: and thus defined and characterized for its lusts as Sodom., for its cruelty to the people of God as Egypt., it is not now called the "holy," but the "great" city, - great even in its crimes. In its street their bodies lie, exposed by the malice of their foes which denies them burial, but allowed by God as the open indictment of those who have thus definitively rejected His righteous rule. The race of the prophets is at an end, which has tormented them with their claim of the world for God; and the men of the earth rejoice, and send gifts to one another. Little do they understand that when His testimony is at an end, there is nothing left but for God Himself to come in and to manifest a power before which mans power shall be extinguished as flax before the flame.
And the presage of this quickly follows. "And after the three days and a half, the breath of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which beheld them., And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither.' And they went up into heaven in the cloud; and their enemies beheld them."
If this is the time of the addition of the saints martyred under the beast's persecution to the first resurrection, of which the vision in the twentieth chapter speaks, then it is plain that we are arrived at the end of the beast's power against the saints, and of the last week of Daniel. "Two" is the number of valid testimony (Jno. viii. 17), and these two witnesses may, in a vision like that before us, stand for many more, - nay, for this whole martyred remnant in Israel. We cannot say it is so, but we can as little say it is not so; and even the suggestion has its interest: for thus this appendix to the sixth trumpet seems designed to put in place the various features of Daniel's last week, the details of which are opened out to us in the seven chapters following, with many additions. And this we might expect in a connected chain of prophecy which stretches on to the end; for under the seventh trumpet the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of the Lord, and of His Christ, and the "time of the dead to be judged" is at least contemplated.
The resurrection of the witnesses is not all: a great earthquake follows, "and the tenth part of the city fell; and there were killed in the earthquake seven thousand persons; and the rest were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven."
Thus the sixth trumpet ends in a convulsion in which judgment takes, as it were, the refused tithe from a rebellious people. There is a marked similarity here between the trumpets and the vials, which end also in an earthquake and judgment of the great city: as to which we may see further in its place. The rest that are not slain give glory to the God of heaven. It is the unacceptable product of mere human fear, which has no practical result; for God is claiming the earth, not simply heaven, and for the affirmation of this claim His witnesses have died. They can allow Him heaven who deny Him earth. And judgment takes its course.
The second woe ends with this, and the third comes quickly after it.
(Chap. xi. 15-18)
The third woe is the coming of the kingdom!
Yes; that to greet which the earth breaks out in gladness, the morning without clouds, the day which has no night, and the fulfillment of the first promise which fell upon man's ears when he stood a naked sinner before God to hear his doom, the constant theme of prophecy now swelling into song and now sighed out in prayer, that kingdom is yet, to the "dwellers upon earth," the last and deepest woe.
The rod of iron is now to smite, and omnipotence it is that wields it. "And the seventh angel sounded, and there followed great voices in heaven, and they said, The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.'" Few words and concise, but how pregnant with blessed meaning! The earth that has rolled from its orbit is reclaimed; judgment has returned to righteousness; He who has learned for Himself the path of obedience in a suffering which was the fruit of tender interest in man has now Himself the sceptre; nor is there any power that can take it out of His hand.
There are no details yet: simply the announcement, which the elders in heaven answer with adoration, prostrate upon their faces, saying, "We give Thee thanks, O Lord God the Almighty, who art and who wast, that Thou hast taken Thy great power, and hast reigned. And the nations were angry, and Thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead to be judged, and to give their reward to Thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to them that fear Thy name, small and great; and to destroy them that destroy the earth."
There is nothing difficult here in the way of interpretation, except that the "time of the dead to be judged" seems to come with the period of the earthly judgments which introduce millennial blessing. We find in the twentieth chapter full assurance that this is not to be. The explanation is that we have here the setting up of the kingdom in its full results, and that the order is one of thought and not of time. The judgments of the quick (or living) and of the dead are both implied in the reign of our Lord and of His Christ, though they are not executed together. God's wrath is mentioned first, because it is for the earth the pre-requisite of blessing, and because judgment is not what He rests in, but in His love. It is therefore put first, that the realization of the blessing may come after, and not give place to it. But this wrath of God which meets and quells the nations' wrath goes on and necessitates the judgment of the dead also. Death is no escape from it: the coming One has the keys of death and hades. With this the holiness of God is satisfied, and the love in which He rests is free to show itself in the reward of prophets and saints, and those who fear His name, little as well as great. This seems as general in its aspect as the judgment of the dead on the other side unquestionably is. The foremost mention of the prophets, as those who have stood for God in testimony upon the earth, is in perfect keeping with the character of the whole book before us. And the destruction of those who destroy the earth is not noticed here apparently as judgment so much as to assure us of the reparation of the injury to that which came out of His hands at first, and in which He has never ceased to have tender interest, despite the permitted evil of "man's day."
Part 3: Commencing Fulfillment of the First Promise [to the Woman's Seed]
PART III: THE TRINITY OF EVIL, AND THE MANIFESTATION OF THE WICKED ONE
COMMENCING FULFILLMENT OF THE FIRST PROMISE [TO THE WOMAN'S SEED].
(Chap. xi. 19 - xii.)
The trumpets, as we have seen, carry us to the end of all. What follows here, therefore, is not in continuation of them, but a new beginning, in which we find the development of details, - of course as to what is of primary importance, and involving principles of the deepest interest and value for us. Through all, the links between the Old Testament and the New are fully maintained, and we have the full light of the double testimony. On our part, we shall need on this account a more patient and protracted examination of that which comes before us.
The last verse of the eleventh chapter belongs properly to the twelfth. It characterizes what is to follow rather than what precedes, and, when we remember that Israel is upon the scene, is of greatest significance. The temple of God is opened in heaven, and there is seen in His temple the ark of His covenant. From the world below it had disappeared, and the temple itself been overthrown, - the testimony of His displeasure with an apostate people. Nor, though the temple were replaced, as after the Babylonish captivity had been the case, could the ark ever be restored by man's hand. It was gone, and with it the token of Jehovah's presence in the midst - a loss evidently irretrievable from man's side. Yet if Israel had no longer thus the assurance of what they were to Him, in heaven all the time, though in secret, the unchangeable goodness of God remained. The ark abode, as it were, with Him, and the time was now come to manifest this: the inner sanctuary of the heavens was opened, and there was the ark still seen.
To us who are accustomed to translate these types into the realities they represent, this is all simple. The ark is Christ, and, as the gold outside the shittim-wood declared, is Christ in glory, gone up after His work accomplished - the work which had provided the precious blood which had sprinkled the mercy-seat. Israel had indeed rejected the lowly Redeemer, and imprecated upon themselves the vengeance due to those who shed it. Yet, though the wrath came, Israel was neither totally nor finally rejected. The blood of Jesus speaketh better things than that of Abel, and is before God the justification of a grace that shall yet be shown them. The literal ark is passed away, as Jeremiah tells us, never to return; but instead of that throne of His of old, a more magnificent grace has declared that Jerusalem itself shall be called "the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart." (Jer. iii. i6, 17.)
The ark, then, seen in the temple in heaven is the sign of God's unforgotten grace toward Israel ; but the nations are not yet ready to welcome that grace, nor indeed are the people themselves, save a remnant, who on that account pass through the bitterest persecution. To that the chapter following bears decisive testimony, as it does of the interference of God for them. Therefore is it that when the sign of His faithfulness to His covenant is seen in heaven, on the earth there ensue convulsion and a storm of divine wrath: "there were lightnings and voices and thunders and an earthquake, and great hail."
And now a "great sign" appears in heaven, "a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and in pain to be delivered." The sign appears in heaven, not because the woman is actually there, but because she is seen according to the mind of God toward her. Who the woman is should be quite plain, as the child she brings forth is He who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron. That is Christ, assuredly, and the mother of Christ is not the virgin, as we see clearly by what follows, still less the Church, of which in no sense is Christ born, but Israel., "of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came," says the apostle. (Rom. ix. 4.) Thus she is seen clothed with the glory of the sun, - that is, of Christ Himself as He will presently appear (Mal. iv. 2) in supreme power, for the sun is the ruler of the day. As a consequence, her glory of old, before the day-dawn, the reflected light of her typical system, is like the moon here under her feet. Upon her head the crown of twelve stars speaks naturally of her twelve tribes, - planets now around the central sun.
The next words carry us back, however, historically, to the time before Christ. She is in travail with Messiah, - a thought hard to realize or understand, except as we realize what the fulfillment of God's promise as to Christ involved in the way of suffering on the part of the nation. To them while under the trial of law, and with the issue (to man's thought, of course,) uncertain, Christ could not be born; the prosperous days of David must go by; the heirs of David be allowed to show out what was in their heart, and be carried to Babylon; humiliation, sorrow, captivity, fail to produce result, until the voice of prophecy even lapses with Malachi; until the long silence, as of death, is broken by the cry at last, "To us a child is born." Here is at least one purpose, as it would seem, of that triple division of the genealogy of the Lord in Matthew, the governmental gospel, in which the first fourteen generations bring one to the culmination of their national prosperity, the second is a period of decline to the captivity, the third a period of resurrection, but which only comes at last, and as in a moment, after the failure of every natural hope. Thus in the government of God Israel must have her travail-time.
But before we see the birth of the man-child, we are called to look at "another sign in heaven," "a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads," These heads and horns we shall presently find upon the fourth beast, or world-empire, but we are not left doubtful as to who the dragon is. Here we find the first in all this part of those interpretations which are given henceforth here and there throughout the book: the dragon is " that ancient serpent which is called the devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world." Thus as the dawn rises upon the battlefield the combatants are discerned. It is Satan who here as the "prince of this world" appears as if incarnate in the last world empire. "Seven heads" show perfection of world-wisdom; and every one of these heads wears a diadem, or despotic crown. The symbolic meaning of the number does not at all preclude another meaning historically, as Scripture history is every where itself symbolic, as is nature also. The ten horns measure the actual extent of power, and infer by their number responsibility and judgment.
The serpent of old has thus grown into a dragon - a monster -"fiery red," as the constant persecutor of the people of God, and he draws with his tail the third part of the stars of heaven, and casts them to the earth. The analogy of the action of the little horn in Daniel (viii. zo), as well as the scope of the prophecy before us, would lead us to think here of Jews, not Christians, and certainly not angels, as to whom the idea of casting them to the earth would seem quite inappropriate. The "tail" implies the false prophet (Isa. ix. is), and therefore it is apostasy among the professing people of God that is indicated. False teaching is eminently characteristic of satanic power at all times, and far more successful than open violence.
"And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, to devour her child as soon as it was born, And she was delivered of a son, a man-child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up to God, and to His throne." The power of Satan, working through the heathen empire of Rome., was thus, with better knowledge than Rome had, in armed watch against the woman and her seed. The census mentioned in Luke as to have gone into effect at the time of Christ's birth, and which was actually carried out after the sceptre had wholly departed from Judah, was in effect a tightening of the serpent-coil around his intended victim. Divine power used it to bring a Galilean carpenter and his wife to Bethlehem., and then, as it were without effort, cancelled the imperial edict. Only from the nation itself could come the sentence which should, as far as man could do so, destroy it, and that sentence was in Pilate's handwriting upon the cross. But from the cross and the guarded grave the woman's Seed escaped victoriously: "her child was caught up to God, and to His throne."
All is thus far easy of interpretation, In what follows, there is more difficulty, although it admits of satisfactory solution. "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared of God, that there they may nourish her a thousand, two hundred, and threescore days." There Daniel's seventieth week comes in again, and evidently the last half of it. But the prophecy goes on immediately from the ascension of Christ to this time, not noticing a gap of more than eighteen centuries which has already intervened between these periods. How, then, can we explain this omission and granting it can be explained, what is the connection between these two things that seem, in more than time, so far apart, - the ascension of Christ, and Israel's flight into the wilderness for this half-week of years? The answer to the first question is to be found in a character of Old Testament prophecy of which already we have had one example, and that in the prophecy of the seventy weeks itself. The last week, although part of a strictly determined time on Israel, is cut off from the sixty-nine preceding by a gap slightly longer than that in the vision before us, the sixty-ninth week reaching only to "Messiah the Prince." (Dan. ix. 25.) He is cut off and has nothing: the blessing cannot, therefore, come in for them; instead, there is a time of warfare - a controversy between God and the people which is not measured, and which is not yet come to an end. Of this the seventieth week is the conclusion, while it is also the time of their most thorough apostasy - the time to which we have come in this part of Revelation.
This lapse of prophecy as to Israel is coincident with the Christian dispensation, the period in which God is taking out of the earth (and characteristically out of the Gentile nations,) a heavenly people. True, there are Jews saved still, - "there is," as the apostle says, "at the present time also, a remnant according to the election of grace." But these are no longer partakers of Jewish hopes: blessed be God, they have better ones; but the nation as such in the meanwhile is given up, as Micah distinctly declares to them should be the case, while he also declares to them the reason of this, and the limit which God has appointed to it. His words are one of the clearest of Old Testament prophecies to Christ, so clear that nothing can be clearer, and are those cited by the chief priests and scribes themselves in proof of "where Christ should be born." "They shall smite the Judge of Israel," says the prophet, "with a rod upon the cheek." It is His people who do this, - His own, to whom He came, and they "received Him not." Then he declares the glory of the rejected One: "But thou, Bethlehem-Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me, that is to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting." (Chap. v. i, 2.) But what will be the result then of His rejection? This is answered immediately: "Therefore will He give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth; then the remnant of His brethren shall return unto the children of Israel."
The last sentence of this remarkable prophecy is a clear intimation of what we know to be the fact, that in this time of national rejection there would be "brethren" - Jewish evidently - of this Judge of Israel, whose place would not be with Israel; while at the end of the time specified, such converted ones would again find their place in the nation. Meanwhile, Israel being given up, the blessing of the earth which waits upon theirs is suspended also: the shadow rests upon the dial plate of prophecy; time is as it were uncounted. Christ is gone up on high, and sits upon the Father's throne: the kingdom of heaven is begun, indeed, but only its "mysteries," unknown to the Old Testament, "things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." (Matt. xiii. II, 35.)
Here, then, where we return to take up the thread of Old Testament prophecy, it is no wonder if the style of the Old Testament be again found. We have again the gap in time uncounted, the Christian dispensation treated as a parenthesis in God's ways with the earth, and the woman's Seed caught away to God and to His throne. Then follows, without apparent interval, the Jewish flight into the wilderness during the three and a half years of unequalled tribulation. But this does not answer the second question - that as to the connection between the catching away of the manchild and the woman's flight. For this we must look deeper than the surface, and gather the suggestions which in Scripture everywhere abound, and here only more openly than usual demand attention. That which closes the Christian dispensation we have seen to be what is significantly parallel to that which opens it. In the Acts, the history of the Church is prefaced with the ascension of the Lord: that which will close its history is the removal of His people. This naturally raises the inquiry, If Christ and His people be so one as in the New Testament they are continually represented, may not the man-child here include both, and the gap be bridged over in this way? The promise to the overcomer in Thyatira links them together in what is attributed to the man-child - the ruling the nations with a rod of iron; and the mention of this seems to intimate the time for the assumption of the rod at hand.
This, then, completes the picture and harmonizes it, so that it may be well accepted as the truth; especially as this acceptance only recognizes that which is otherwise known as true, and makes no additional demands upon belief.
The man-child caught up to God and to His throne, the woman flies into the wilderness, into a place prepared of God, where they nourish her for the time of trouble. The woman is the nation as in the sight of God; not all Israel., nor even all the saints in Israel., but those who are ordained of God to continue, and who therefore represent it before Him. The apostate mass are cut off by judgment (Zech. xiii. 8, Isa. iv. 3, 4). The martyred saints go up to heaven. Still God preserves a people to be the nucleus of the millennial nation, and this, of course, it is the special desire of Satan to destroy. They are preserved by the hand of God, though amid trial such as the "wilderness" naturally indicates, and which is designed of God for their purification.
And now there ensues that which in the common belief of Christians had long before taken place, but which in fact is the initial stage of final judgment, - Satan is cast out of heaven. "And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, - that old serpent called the devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."
As I have said, the simplest interpretation of this is counter to the common belief of Christendom. Satan has, according to the thought of many, long been in hell, though he is (strangely enough) allowed to leave it and ramble over the earth at will. To these, it is a grotesque, weird and unnatural thought that the devil should have been suffered all this time to remain in heaven. Man has evidently been allowed to remain on earth, but then - beside the fact of death removing his successive generations - toward him there are purposes of mercy in which Satan has no part. The vision-character of Revelation may be objected against it also, so that the simplest interpretation may seem on that very account the widest from the truth. Does not our Lord also say that He saw "Satan fall as lightning from heaven"? (Luke x. i8.) And the apostle, that the angels which sinned, He cast down to hell? (2 Pet. ii. 4 Jude 6.) Such passages would seem with many decisively to affirm the ordinary view.
In fact, it is only the last passages that have any real force; and here another has said, "It seems hardly possible to consider Satan as one of these," - the angels spoken of, - " for they are in chains, and guarded till the great day; he is still permitted to go about as the tempter and the adversary, until his appointed time be come." As to our Lord's words, they are easily to be understood as in the manner often of prophecy, "I saw," being equivalent to "I foresaw." On the other hand, that the "spiritual hosts of wickedness" with which now we wrestle are "in heavenly places" is told us plainly in Ephesians (vi. 12,R.V.); and in the passage in Revelation before us, no less plainly. For the connection of this vision with what is still future we have already seen, and shall see further, and the application to Satan personally ought not to be in doubt. The "dragon" is indeed a symbol; but "the devil and Satan," is the interpretation of it, and certainly not as figurative as the dragon itself.
Scripture implies also in other ways what we have here. When the apostle speaks of our being "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance," he adds that it is to be that "until the redemption of the purchased possession," - that is, until we get the inheritance itself (Eph. i. iii). But we get it then by redemption, not our own, but of the inheritance itself. Our inheritance has therefore to be redeemed, and this redemption takes place manifestly when the heirs as a whole are ready for it. Now redemption, it is plain, in this case, like the redemption of the body, is a redemption by power, - God laying hold of it to set it free in some sense from a condition of alienation from Himself, and to give his people possession. And if the manchild include "those who are Christ's at His coming," then the purging of the heavenly places by the casting of Satan and his angels out is just the redemption of the heavenly inheritance.
Elsewhere we read, accordingly, of the reconciliation of heavenly as of earthly things (Col. i. 20). And this is a phrase which, like the former, implies alienation previously. And here it is on the ground of the cross: "having made peace through the blood of the cross." In Hebrews, again, as "it was necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens " - as in the tabernacle - "should be purified with" sacrificial blood, so must "the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these." (Heb. ix. 23.) The work of Christ having glorified God as to the sin which has defiled not the earth only but the heavens, He can come in to deliver and bring back to Himself what is to be made the inheritance of Christ and His "joint-heirs."
All is, then, of a piece with what is the only natural meaning of this war in heaven. The question of good and evil, every-where one, receives its answer for heaven as for earth, first, in the work of Christ, which glorifies God as to all, and then, as the fruit of this, in the recovery of what was alienated from Him, the enemies of this glorious work being put under Christ's feet. This now begins to be, though even yet in a way which to us may seem strange: strange to us it seems to hear of war in heaven,. - of arrayed hosts on either side, - of resistance though unsuccessful, the struggle being left as it would seem to creature-prowess, God not directly interfering: "Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not."
After all, is it stranger that this should be in heaven than on the earth? Are not God's ways one? And is not all the long-protracted struggle allowed purposely to work out to the end thus, the superior power being left to show itself as the power resident in the good itself, as in that which is the key of the whole problem, the cross of the Son of Man? If God Himself enter the contest, He adapts Himself to the creature-conditions, and comes in on the lowest level, - not an angel even, but a man.
Let us look again at the combatants: on the one side is Michael - "Who is like God?" - a beautiful name for the leader in such a struggle! On the opposite side is he who first said to the woman, "Ye shall be as God;" and whose pride was his own condemnation (2 Tim. iii. 6). How clearly the moral principle of the contest is here defined! Keep but the creature's place, you are safe, happy, holy; the enemy shall not prevail against you: leave it, you are lost. The " dragon " - from a root which speaks of "keen sight " - typifies what seems perhaps a preternatural brilliancy of intellect, serpent-cunning, the full development of such "wisdom" as that with which he tempted Eve, but none of that which begins with the fear of God. He is therefore, like all that are developed merely upon one side, a monster. This want of conscience is shown in his being the devil - the "false accuser;" his heart is made known in his being Satan - the adversary.
These are the types of those that follow them; and Michael is always the warrior-angel, characterized as he is by his name, as Gabriel - "man of God" - is the messenger of God to men. If God draw near to men, it is in the tender familiarity of manhood that He does so. How plainly do these names speak to us!
In the time of distress that follows upon earth, Daniel is told that "Michael shall stand up, the great prince that standeth for the children of thy people;.. and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book." Here in Revelation we have the heavenly side of things, and still it is Michael that stands up as the deliverer. The tactics of divine warfare are not various, but simple and uniform. Truth is simple and one; error manifold and intricate. The spiritual hosts fight under faith's one standard, and it is the banner of Michael, "Who is like God?" Under its folds is certain victory.
The dragon is cast out: the war in that respect is over; heaven is free. But he is not yet cast into hell, nor even into the bottomless pit, but to the earth; and thus the earth's great trouble-time ensues. Satan comes down with great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time. How terrible a thing is sin! How amazing that a full, clear view of what is before him should only inspire this fallen being with fresh energy of hate to that which must all recoil upon himself, and add intensity of torment to eternal doom! Even so is every act of sin as it were a suicide; and he who committeth it is the slave of sin (Jno. Viii. 34).
A great voice in heaven celebrates the triumph there. "Now is come the salvation and power and kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ; for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accused them before our God day and night." The salvation spoken of here is not, apparently, as some think, the salvation of the body; for it is explained directly as deliverance of some who are called "our brethren" from the accusation of Satan. The voice seems, therefore, that of the glorified saints, and the "brethren" of whom they speak, the saints on earth, who had indeed by individual faithfulness overcome in the past those accusations which are now forever ended. Satan's antipriestly power, as another has remarked, is at an end.
Yet he may, and does, after this, exercise imperial power, and stir up the most violent persecution of the people of God, and these still may be called not to love their lives unto death. It is not here, then, that his power ceases: they have conflict still, but not with "principalities and powers in heavenly places." (Eph. vi. 12.) Heaven is quiet and calm above them, if around is still the noise of the battle. And how great is the mercy that thus provides for them during those three and a half years of unequalled tribulation still to come! Is not this worthy of God that, just at the time when Satan's rage is greatest, and arming the world-power against His people, the sanctuary of the soul is never invaded by him: the fiery darts of the wicked one cease; he is no more "prince of the power of the air," but restricted to the earth simply, to work through the passions of men, which he can inflame against them. Accordingly to this he gives himself with double energy: "And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman who brought forth the man-child." But God interferes: "And there were given unto the woman the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the face of the serpent."
The words recall plainly the deliverance from Egypt. Pharaoh king of Egypt is called thus by the prophet, "the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers," (Ezek. XXIX. 3,) and is himself the concentration of the malice of the world-power; while God says to delivered Israel at Sinai, "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians; and how I bare you on eagle's wings, and brought you to Myself." (Ex. XIX. 4.) The reference here seems definitely to this: it is not, as in the common version, "a" great eagle, indefinitely, but "the" great eagle, - the griffon, perhaps, than which no bird has a more powerful or masterly flight. Clearly it is divine power that is referred to in these words: in the deliverance out of Egypt there was jealous exclusion of all power beside. Israel was to be taught the grace and might of a Saviour-God. And so in the end again it will be when He repeats, only in a grander way, the marvels of that old deliverance, and "allures" the heart of the nation to Himself.
Miracle may well come in again for them, and it may be that the wilderness literally will once more provide shelter and nourishment for them. Figure and fact may here agree together, and so it often is; the terms even seem to imply the literal desert here, just because it is evidently a place of shelter that divine love provides, and sustenance there; and what more natural than that the desert, by which the land of Israel is half encompassed, should be used for this? That which follows seems to be imagery borrowed from the desert also. Like the streams of Antilibanus, many a river is swallowed up in the sand, as that is which is now poured out of the dragon's mouth. If it be an army that is pictured, the wilderness is no less capable of the absorption of a nation's strength. The river being cast out of his mouth would seem to show that it is by the power of his persuasion that men are incited to this overflow of enmity against the people of God, which is so completely foiled that the baffled adversary gives up further effort in this direction, and the objects of his pursuit are after this left absolutely unassailed.
But those who so escape, while thus securing the existence of the nation - and therefore identified with the woman herself, - are not the whole number of those who in it are converted to God; and "the remnant of her seed" become now the object of his furious assault. These are indeed those, as it would seem, with whom is the testimony of Jesus, which is, we are assured, "the spirit of prophecy." (Chap. xix. io.) These are they, perhaps, who amid these times of trouble go forth, as from age to age the energy of the Spirit has incited men to go forth, taking their lives in their hand that they might bring the word of God before His creatures, and who have been ever of necessity the special objects of satanic enmity. They are the new generation of those who as men of God have stood forth prominently for God upon the earth, and have taken from men on the one hand their reward in persecution, but from God on the other the sweet counterbalancing acknowledgment. It is of such the Lord says, "Blessed are ye when they shall reproach and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you." (Matt. v. ii, 12.)
Noticeable it is that it is in heaven still this new race of prophets find their reward. The two witnesses whom we have seen ascend to heaven in a cloud belong to this number; and those who in Daniel as turning many to righteousness, shine as the stars for ever and ever, Earth casts them out, and they are seen in our Lord's prophecy as brethren of the King, hungering and athirst, in strangership, naked and sick and in prison (Matt. xxv. 35, 36, 40). Heaven receives them in delight as those of whom the earth was not worthy, - a gleaning after harvest, as it were, of wheat for God's granary, - a last sheaf of the resurrection of the saints, which the twentieth chapter of the book before us sees added to the sitters upon the thrones, among the "blessed and holy" now complete. How well are they cared for who might seem left unsheltered to Satan's enmity! They have lost the earthly blessing, they have gained the heavenly; their light has been quenched for a time, to shine in a higher sphere forever. Blessed be God!
We may follow, then, the new development of satanic enmity without fear. We shall gain from considering it. Their enemy and ours is one and the same: it is Satan, the old serpent, the ancient homicide, and we must not be "ignorant of his devices." His destiny is to be overcome, and that by the feeblest saint against whom he seems for the present to succeed so easily.
The Resurrection of the Fourth Empire
(Chap. xiii. 1 - 10.)
Satan being now in full activity of opposition to the woman and her seed, we are carried on to see his further efforts to destroy them. Working, as from the beginning, through instruments in which he conceals himself, we find ourselves now face to face with his great instrument in the last days; in which too we recognize one long before spoken of in the prophets, especially by him to whom in the book of Revelation we have such frequent reference - the apocalyptic prophet of the Old Testament.
It is indeed the fourth beast of Daniel without dispute to which the word of inspiration now directs our atten tion. "I saw," says the apostle, "a beast coming up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads the names of blasphemy."
The four beasts of Daniel's vision answer, as every one knows, to the one human figure seen by the king of Babylon. In his eyes there is in it at least the likeness of man, although there is no breath, no life. To the prophet afterward the world-empires appear on the other hand full of life, but it is bestial. One of the chapters between supplies the link between the two: for Nebuchadnezzar is himself driven out among the beasts, as we see in the fourth chapter, for a disciplinary punishment until he knows "that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men." In a pride which has forgotten God, he has become but a beast which knows none. He is therefore driven out among the beasts until seven times pass over him. The prophet sees thus the powers of the world to be but beasts - "wild beasts" indeed, as here.
As the fourth beast, moreover, the successor and heir to those that have been before it, the last empire not only shows still this bestial nature. It combines in itself the various characters of the first three. It is in general form like the leopard or Greek empire, agile and swift in its attack as the leopard is known to be. But it has the feet of the bear, the Persian tenacity of grasp, and the mouth of the lion, the Babylonian ferocity. Beast it is clearly, yet not in simple ignorance of God as the beast is: its seven heads are seen to have on each of them a name of blasphemy.
In its ten horns it differs from all before it; and these, we are explicitly told, (xvii. i7,) are "ten kings" which "give their power unto the beast." In the vision now we find these kings actually crowned. They are in existence when the beast rises from the sea, that is, from the commencement of the empire in some sense - not of old Rome., that is certain, for old Rome never commenced in such a manner. It must then be Rome as new-risen among the nations in the latter days.
The later chapter, to which we have just now referred, speaks plainly of a time when the beast that was "is not;" and for centuries, we are well aware, the empire has not existed. But the same prophecy assures us that it is to be again; and in the vision before us we find it accordingly risen up, as of old time, from the sea, - that is to say, the restless strife of the nations. As we have seen, however, that is not the only way in which it is seen to rise again: for in the history of the witnesses it has been spoken of as "ascending up out of the bottomless pit," and this is repeated in the seventeenth chapter, "the beast... shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition." Are these two ascents, then or only one, looked at from two sides?
Again of its heads, one is said in the present chapter to be "wounded to death," but "its deadly wound was healed;" and afterward the beast is spoken of as having had the "wound by a sword" and living (v. 14). Are these still various ways of expressing the same thing, or not? and is there any way of deciding this?
Certainly, the long collapse of centuries during which the beast "was not" could hardly seem to be described as its having a wound and living, or as a deadly wound which could be healed. Let us look more closely at the prophecy, or rather at the different prophecies about this, and see what may be gathered.
In Daniel we have no mention of the time of nonexistence, or of a plurality of heads upon the beast, but the ten horns show us that the empire is there before us also as it exists in the latter days; as it is plain also that it is in this form that the judgment there described comes upon it. But the prophet considering these ten horns, sees, rising up after them, another little horn in which are developed those blasphemous characters which bring down its final judgment upon the beast. It speaks great words against the Most High, and wears out the saints of the Most High, and thinks to change times and laws; and these are given into its hands until a time and times and the dividing of a time, - that is, for the last half week of Daniel's seventy, just before the Lord comes and the judgment falls. Now this last horn rises up after the first ten are in existence, and therefore the empire in its latter-day form; and if this little horn be that whose "dominion" brings judgment upon the beast, then it would seem that the eleventh horn and the eighth head of Revelation must be the same.
The seven heads are not in Daniel, nor is the eleventh horn in Revelation. But we may learn in both of these details by means of which we can compare them. Thus, as to the heads, five had fallen when the angel spoke to John (xvii. 12): one existed, the imperial; another was to come and last but a short time, and then would be the eighth, or the beast in its final form, identified with its head here, as morally at least with the little horn in Daniel. We have anticipated somewhat, and seem obliged for our purpose to anticipate, what is given us only in the seventeenth chapter, before the history of these latter days becomes in measure clear to us. Let us seek first to get hold of the point of time which the interpretation contemplates as Present. When the angel says to John, "The woman which thou sawest is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth," we know that at the time of the revelation there was one city, and but one, to which his words could apply. It was Rome that ruled over the kings of the earth, even as Rome fills out his description also in another respect, being notoriously the seven-hilled city. That Rome is in fact the city spoken of, is, spite of the effort of a few to find another application, the verdict of the mass of commentators of all times, and this interpretation of the woman seems given by the angel as what would need no further explanation.
The ten horns, on the other hand, he states to be future: "the ten horns are ten kings which have received no kingdom as yet." Here we see that the point of view is still that of the apostle himself. And when it is said of the heads, "five are fallen, and one is," Livy, as is well-known, has given the five different forms of government under which Rome had been before that sixth, the imperial, which existed in the apostle's day. The point of view seems here quite plain.
On the other hand, "the beast that was and is not" may seem to be opposed to this. But if that could not be said in the apostle's day, that the beast was not, it could be as little said of the day of the fulfillment of the vision. Thus, "was, is not, and shall be," merely pictorially presents the history of the beast, and does not at all give us the standpoint, as the other expressions do.
It is a curious coincidence, that if in Daniel's vision of the four beasts we connect the four heads of the leopard with the other three of the remaining ones, we have just seven, and it has been argued that these are, in fact, the seven heads upon the beast in Revelation; but then six should have fallen, and not five, when the angel spoke. The sixth also would be the last Grecian head, and the Roman would be future. That the heads are successive is quite plain, and there seems no room for any other application than that of the sixth head to the emperor of Rome.
The seventh would follow at an uncertain period in the future, and the application here has been various - to the exarchate of Ravenna., to Charlemagne, to Napoleon. It is not needful to enter into any elaborate disproof of these, as that putting together of prophecy, of the necessity of which the apostle warns us, will show sufficiently how inadmissible they are. "The beast that was and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven," says the angel : "one of the seven," Bleek with others takes it to mean ; "rising from the seven," says Alford. But the last, if we are to interpret the sixth as we have done, can scarcely be maintained. If we are to say, "one of the seven," then we may tentatively suppose it to be the seventh revived; and put in this way, other passages would seem to throw light upon it.
The seventh head was to continue but a little while and one of the heads - it is not stated which - was to be wounded to death and live, as we have seen. It is on this account that the world wonders after the beast, and this is clearly at the end: so that it is either the eighth head itself that is wounded and revives, or else it is the eighth head which is the seventh revived, as we have just supposed. This thought unites then and makes plain the different passages.
The beast (under this eighth head) "practices" forty and two months, the last half week of Daniel's seventy. Yet the "prince that shall come" makes his covenant with the Jews for the whole last week, in the midst of which he breaks it (Dan. ix. 27). Does not this show that not only are the seventh and eighth heads as heads identical, but individually also? and does it not confirm very strongly as truth what at first appeared only to be supposition?
In this manner Daniel's prophecy of the little horn would seem to describe his second rise to power, after having fallen from being the seventh head of the beast to a rank below that of the ten kings. From this, partly by force, partly by concession, gained no doubt by the aid of him who discerns in the fallen ruler a fitting instrument for his devilish ends, he rises to his former preeminence over them all, filled with the animosity against God with which the dragon, "prince of this world," has inspired him, and the world wondering and ready to worship.
Thus the picture seems complete and the outline harmonious in all its details. It agrees well with what has been before suggested - the rise of the seventh head under the first seal, its collapse under the fourth trumpet, its revival through satanic influence under the sixth. Its judgment takes place under the seventh, but the details of this are unfolded in the latter part of Revelation. We see that the conspiracy of the second psalm, of the kings and rulers "against the Lord and His Anointed," is by no means over. Nay, the Gentile power that wrote defiantly His title on His cross is risen up again, and with even more than its old defiance. The long-suffering of the Lord has not been to it salvation. The exhortation, "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way," has not been heeded. Rome still vindicates its title to its position as the head of a hostile world. "I gave her space to repent, and she will not repent," is as true of her in her civil as in her ecclesiastical character.
The revival of the last empire is Satan's mockery of resurrection; yet God is over it and in it, commanding her from her tomb for judgment. And with her, other buried nations are to revive and come forth to the light. Greece has thus revived. Italy has revived. Israel., as we well know, is reviving, and for her also there is not unmingled blessing, but solemn and terrible judgment that will leave but a remnant for the final promise surely to be fulfilled. Israel were foremost in the rejection of their Lord, when first He came to His own, and His own received Him not. It was they who used Gentile hands to execute the sentence which they lacked power to carry out. And it is strange indeed to find, in these awful last days of blasphemy and rebellion, the Jew still inspiring the Gentile in the last outburst of infidel pride and lawlessness: the second beast in the chapter before us is at once Jewish, and by its lamblike appearance and its dragon-voice, antichristian.
And this is that to which, unwarned by the sure word of prophecy, men are hurrying on. The swiftness of the current that is carrying them, owned as it is by all, is for them "progress," while it is but the power felt of the nearing cataract. "When they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape!" So said the lips that uttered that lament over Jerusalem, which with added force may speak to us today, "How often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wing; and YE would not!"
(Chap. xiii. 11 - 18.)
Along with the resurrection of the imperial power, we are now shown in the vision the uprise of another "wild beast," which we have nowhere else brought before us in this character. We shall have, therefore, more attentively to consider the description given, and what means we have for identification of the power or person who is described, so that the prophecy may be brought out of the isolation which would make it incapable of interpretation, and may speak at least with its full weight of moral instruction for our souls.
The one seen is "another wild beast," and this character is clear enough. The empires of Daniel are "beasts," in that they know not God; the thought of the wild beast adds to this that savage cruelty, which will, of course, display itself against those who are God's. Inasmuch as the other beasts are powers - empires, - it would seem as if here too were a power, royal or imperial; but this would not be certain, unless confirmed by other intimations.
It is seen rising up out of the earth, and not out of the sea. The latter symbol evidently applies to the nations, - the Gentiles; does not then this power rise out of the nations? It has been thought to mean a settled state of things into which the nations now had got, - a state of things unlikely at the period we are considering, and which would seem rather imageable as quiet water, than as "earth." Looking back to that first chapter of Genesis, in which we should surely get the essential meaning of these figures, and where typically the six days reveal the story of the dispensations on to the final Sabbath-rest of God, we shall find the earth, in its separation from the waters on the third day, speaking of Israel as separated from the Gentiles. If this be true interpretation, as I doubt not, it is an Israelitish power with which we are here brought face to face.
Political events today look to a Jewish resurrection, as something in the near future scarcely problematical. Daniel's words (chap. xii. x) which apply to this, make it sure that this will not be all of God, but that "some" will rise "to shame and everlasting contempt." Prophecies that we have already to some extent considered, intimate that Jewish unbelief is yet to unite with an apostasy of Christendom, and culminate in a "man of sin, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." (2 Thess. ii. 3-4) Thus we may be prepared to find here a blasphemous persecuting power rising up in the restored nation. And this may help us to the awful significance of what follows in Revelation - "and he had two horns like a lamb, and spake as a dragon."
"Two horns like a lamb :" the "Lamb" is a title so significant in the present book, - nay, of such controlling significance, that any reference to it must be considered of corresponding importance. The two horns, then, are of course an intimation that the power exercised by the one before us - for the "horn" is a well-known symbol of power - is twofold, in some sense like that of a lamb: how then? What is the twofold character of the power here? It seems as if there could be but one meaning: Christ's power is twofold, as manifested in the day that comes; He is a "priest upon the throne," - a royal Priest, with spiritual authority as well as kingly. This the blasphemous usurper before us will assume; and this manifests him, without possibility of mistake that one can see, as ANTICHRIST.
He is betrayed by His voice: his speech is that of a dragon; he is inspired, in fact, by Satan. There is no sweet and gracious message upon His lips. It is not He who has been man's burden-bearer, and the sinner's Saviour. No gentleness and meekness, but the tyranny of the destroyer; no heavenly wisdom, but Satan's craft, utters itself through him. Arrogant as he is, he is the miserable tool of man's worst enemy, and his own.
"And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast in his presence." He is the representative of the newly constituted empire of the west, not locally merely, but throughout it; and thus, as standing for another, he is still the awful mockery of Him who is on the throne of the world, the Father's representative. This is developed by the next words to its full extent: "and he causeth the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed; and he doeth great signs, so that he maketh fire to descend from heaven upon the earth before men." Here the very miracle which Elijah once had wrought to turn back the hearts of apostate Israel to the true God he is permitted to do to turn men to a false one. Men are given up to be deceived: God is sending them (as it is declared in Thessalonians) "strong delusion, that they may believe the lie because they received not the love of the truth." The Word of God, announcing this beforehand, would, of course, be the perfect safeguard of those that trusted it; and this very miracle as it would appear, would be a sign to the elect, not of Christ, but of Antichrist. But to the men that dwell upon the earth, a moral characteristic distinguishing those who as apostate from Christianity have given up all their hope of heaven, and who are all through this part specially pointed out, heaven itself would seem to seal the pretensions of the deceiver. "And he deceiveth the dwellers upon the earth, by means of the signs which it was given him to do in the presence of the beast, saying to the dwellers upon earth, that they should make an image to the beast who had the wound by the sword and lived. And it was given him to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause those that would not worship the image of the beast to be slain."
Is an actual image of the beast intended here? or is it some representative of imperial authority, such as the historical interpreters in general (though in various ways) have made it out to be? Against the latter thought there is in itself no objection, but rather the reverse, the book being so symbolical throughout. But it is the second beast itself that is the representative of the authority of the first beast; and on the other hand an apparent creation-miracle would not be unlikely to be attempted by one claiming to be divine. Notice, that it is not "life" he gives to it, as in the common version, nor "spirit," though the word may be translated so, but "breath," which as the alternative rendering is plainly the right one, supposing it be a literal image.
Our Lord's words as to the "abomination of desolation standing in the holy place" (Matt. xxiv. 15), are in evident connection with this, and confirm this thought. "Abomination" is the regular word in the Old Testament, to express what idolatry is in the sight of God; but here it is established in what was but awhile before professedly His temple. For until the middle of Daniel's seventieth week, from the beginning of it, sacrifice and oblation have been going on among the returned people in Jerusalem. This was under the shelter of the covenant with that Gentile "prince" of whom the prophet speaks as the "coming one." At first, he is clearly therefore not inspired with the malignity toward God which he afterwards displays. Now, energized by Satan, from whom he holds his throne, and incited by the dread power that holds Jerusalem itself, he makes his attack upon Jehovah's throne itself, and as represented by this image, takes his place in defiance in the sanctuary of the Most High. The connection of this prophecy with those in Daniel and in Matthew makes plain the reason of the image being made and worshiped. The head of the Roman earth, and of this last and worst idolatry, is not in Judea, but at Rome ; and he who is in Judea., of whatever marvellous power possessed, is yet only the delegate of the Roman head. Thus the image is made to represent this supreme power, and the worship paid to it is in perfect accordance with this. Here in Judea., where alone now there is any open pretension to worship the true God, - here there is call for the most decisive measures. And thus the death-penalty proclaimed for those who do not worship. Jerusalem is the centre of the battle-field, and here the opposition must be smitten down. "And he causeth all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and bond, that they should give them a mark upon their right hand and upon their forehead, and that no one should be able to buy or sell except he have the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name."
Thus, then, is that "great tribulation" begun of which the Lord spoke in His prophecy in view of the temple. We can understand that the only hope while this evil is permitted to have its course is, that flight to the mountains which He enjoins on those who listen to His voice. Israel have refused that sheltering wing under which He would have so often gathered them, and they must be left to the awful "wing of abominations" (Dan. ix. 27, Heb.) on account of which presently the "desolator" from the north swoops down upon the land. Still His pity whom they have forsaken has decreed a limit, and "for His elect's sake, whom He hath chosen, He hath shortened the days."
Why is it that breath is given to the image? Is it in defiance of the prophet's challenge of the "dumb idols," which "speak not through their mouth"? Certainly to make an image speak in such a place against the Holy One would seem the climax of apostate insolence. But it only shows that the end is indeed near.
What can be said of the "number of the beast"? The words, "Here is wisdom: let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast," seem directly to refer to those whom Daniel calls "the wise," or "they that understand among the people," of whom it is said, concerning the words of the vision "closed up and sealed till the time of the end," that "none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand." The "wise," or "they that understand," are in Hebrew the same word - the maskilim, and remind us again of certain psalms that are called maskil psalms, an important series of psalms in this connection, four of which (lii-lv.) describe the wicked one of this time and his following; while the thirty second speaks of forgiveness and a hiding-place in God, the forty-second comforts those cast out from the sanctuary, and the forty-fifth celebrates the victory of Christ, and His reign, and the submission of the nations. Again, the seventy-fourth pleads for the violated sanctuary; the seventy-eighth recites the many wanderings of the people from their God; the seventy-ninth is another mourning over the desolation of Jerusalem ; the eighty-eighth bewails their condition under a broken law; and the eighty-ninth declares the "sure mercies of David. The hundred and forty-second is the only other maskil psalm.
Molll may well dispute Hengstenberg's assertion that these psalms are special instruction for the Church. On the other hand, the mere recital of them in this way may convince us how they furnish the very keynote to Israel 's condition in the time of the end, and may well be used to give such instruction to the remnant amid the awful scenes of the great tribulation. In Revelation, it will not be doubtful, I think, to those who will attentively consider it, that we have in this place a nota bene for the maskilim. Can we say nothing, then, as to the number of the beast?
As to the individual application, certainly, I think, nothing. We cannot prophesy; and until the time comes, the vision in this respect is "sealed up." The historical interpreters, for whom indeed there should be no seal, if their interpretation be the whole of it, generally agree upon Lateinos (the Latin), which has, however, an e too much, and therefore would make but 66. Other words have been suggested, but it is needless to speak of them: the day will declare it.
Yet it does not follow but that there may be something for us in the number of significance spiritually. The 6 thrice repeated, while it speaks of labour and not rest, - of abortive effort after the divine 7, declares the evil in its highest to be limited and in God's hand. This number is but, after all, we are told, "the number of a man;" and what is man? He may multiply responsibility and judgment; but the Sabbath is God's rest, and sanctified to Him: without God, he can have no Sabbath. This 6,6, 6, is the number of a man who is but a beast, and doomed.
With this picture in Revelation, we are to connect the prophecies of Antichrist which we have elsewhere in the New Testament, and which we have briefly considered. The apostle John has shown us distinctly that he will deny the Father and the Son, - the faith of Christianity, - and (not that there is a Christ, but) that Jesus is the Christ. He is thus distinctly identified with the unbelief of Israel., as he is impliedly an apostate from the Christian faith, in which character the apostle plainly speaks of him to the Thessalonians. He is a second Judas, "the son of perdition," the ripe fruit of that "falling away" which was to come before the day of the Lord came, - itself the outcome of that "mystery of of iniquity" (or "lawlessness") then at work. He is the "wicked," or "lawless one," - not the sinful woman, the harlot of Revelation, but the "man of sin."
Every word here claims from us the closest attention. The sinful woman is still professedly subject to the man, antichristian, because in fact putting herself in Christ's place, claiming a power that is His alone. Nevertheless, she claims it in His name, not in her own. The pope assumes not to be Christ, but the vicar of Christ. The real "man of sin" throws off this womanly subjection. He is no vicar of Christ, but denies that Jesus is the Christ. He sits in the temple of God., showing himself that he is God. Yet, even as Christ owns, and brings men to worship, the Father, so Antichrist brings men to worship another, as Revelation has shown us. There is a terrible consistency about these separate predictions, which thus confirm and supplement one another.
We see clearly now that the temple in which he sits is not the Christian church, but the Jewish temple, and how he is linked with the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel and by the Lord, an abomination, which brings in the time of trouble lasting till the Son of Man comes in the clouds of heaven as Saviour of Israel and of the world.
The abomination is mentioned three times in Daniel, the only place that is equivocal in its application to the last days being that of the eleventh chapter (v. 31). The connection would refer it there to Antiochus Epiphanes, the Grecian oppressor of Israel., who, near the middle of the second century before Christ, profaned the temple with idolatrous sacrifices and impure rites. It is agreed by commentators in general that the whole of the previous part of the chapter details in a wonderful manner the strife of the Syrian and Egyptian kings, in the centre of which Judea lay. From this point on, however, interpreters differ widely. The attempt to apply the rest of the prophecy to Antiochus has been shown by Keil and others to be an utter failure. The time of trouble such as never was, yet which ends with the deliverance of the people (chap. xii. r) corresponds exactly with that which is spoken of in the Lord's prophecy on the mount of Olives; and the "time, times, and a half" named in connection with the abomination of desolation, and which the book of Revelation again and again brings before us, are alone sufficient to assure us that we have here reached a period future to us today. The connection of all this becomes a matter of deepest interest.
That the whole present period of the Christian dispensation should be passed over in Old Testament prophecy is indeed not a new thing to us; and the knowledge of this makes the leap of so many centuries not incredible. If, however, the "time, times, and a half," or twelve hundred and sixty days, from the setting up of the abomination, contemplate that abomination set up by Antiochus, more than a century and a half before Christ, then the reckoning of this time is an utter perplexity. Yet, what other can be contemplated, when in all this prophecy there is none other referred to? To go back to chaps. viii. or ix. to find such a reference, overlooking what is before our eyes, would seem out of question. What other solution of the matter is possible?
Now we must remember that the book is shut up and sealed until the "time of the end," - a term which has a recognized meaning in prophecy, and cannot apply to the times of Antiochus, or to those of the Maccabees which followed them, it assures us once more that the prophecy reaches on to the days of Matt. xxiv.; and that the abomination of desolation there must be the abomination here. Yet how can it be? Only, surely, in one way: if the application to Antiochus, while true, be only the partial and incipient fulfillment of that which looks on to the last days for its exhaustive one, then indeed all is reconciled, and the difficulty has disappeared. This, therefore, must be the real solution.
What we have here is only one example of that double fulfillment which many interpreters have long since found in Scripture prophecies, and of which the book of Revelation is the fullest and the most extended. There may be a question here as to how far the double fulfillment in in this case reaches back. With this we have not to do, for we are not primarily occupied with Daniel. It is sufficient for our purpose, if we are entitled to take the abomination of desolation here (as it certainly appears that we are bound to take it,) as in both places the same, and identical with that which we find in the New Testament.
Going on in the eleventh chapter then, to the thirty-sixth verse, we find the picture of one who may well be the same as the second "beast" of Revelation. If at the first look it might appear so, a further consideration, it is believed, will confirm the thought of this. We must quote the description in full.
"And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished, for that that is determined shall be done. Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the Desire of women, nor regard any god; for he shall magnify himself above all. But in his estate shall he honour the god of forces; and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honour with gold and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things. Thus shall he do in the most strong holds with a strange god, whom he shall acknowledge and increase with glory; and he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for gain."
If we take the prophecy as closely connected, at least from the thirty-first verse, - and we have seen that there seems a necessity for this, - then this king is described in his conduct after the abomination of desolation has been set up in the temple; and this strange, and it might seem contradictory character that is ascribed to him, would seem to mark him out sufficiently, that he sets himself up above every god, and yet has a god of his own. This is exactly what is true of the antichristian second beast: and there can scarcely be another at such a time, of whom it can be true. But let us look more closely.
First, he is a king; and the place of his rule is clearly, by the connection, in the land of Israel. Thus he fills the identical position of the second beast. Then he does according to his own will, is his own law - "lawless," as in Thessalonians. His self-exaltation above every god naturally connects itself with blasphemy against the God of gods, spite of which he prospers till the indignation is accomplished, - that is, the term of God's wrath against Israel., a determinate, decreed time. This is the secret of his being allowed to prosper, that God wills to use him as a rod of discipline for His people. Israel 's sins give power to their adversaries.
The next verse intimates that he is a Jew himself, an apostate one, for he regards not the God of his fathers. It is not natural to apply this to any other than the true God, and then his ancestry is plain. Then too the "desire of women," put as here among the objects of worship, is the Messiah, promised as the "woman's seed." Thus his character comes still more clearly out.
Yet, though thus exalting himself, he has a god of his own, the "god of forces," or "fortresses." And we have seen the second beast's object of worship is the first beast; a political idol, sought for the strength it gives, a worship compounded of fear and greed. Thus it is indeed a god whom his fathers knew not, none of the old gods of which the world has been so full, although the dark and dreadful power behind it is the same: the face is changed, but not the heart.
Indeed strongholds are his trust, and he practices against them with tbe help of this strange god : this seems the meaning of the sentence that follows. "And whosoever acknowledges him he will increase with glory, and cause him to rule over the multitude, and divide the land for gain."
In all this we find what agrees perfectly with what is elsewhere stated of the "man of sin." There are no doubt difficulties in interpreting this part of Daniel consistently all through, especially in the connection of the "king" here spoken of with the setting up of the abomination in the thirty-first verse. For it is the king of the north who there seems to inspire this; and the king of the north is throughout the chapter the Grecian king of Syria., and the part he plays is clearly that which Antiochus did play. From this it is very natural that it should be conceived (as by some it is) that the king of the north and Antichrist are one. If this were so, it would not alter any thing that has been said as to the application of the prophecy, although there might be a difficulty as to a Grecian prince becoming a Jewish false Christ.
But there is no need for this; nor any reason that I am aware why the perpetration of the awful wickedness in connection with Jehovah's sanctuary should not be the work of more than even the two beasts of Revelation. It is certainly striking that in chap. viii., where the rise of this latter-day Grecian power is depicted, the taking away of the daily sacrifice is linked in some way with his magnifying himself against the Prince of the host (v. ii). It may not be positively asserted that it is done by him, (as most translators and interpreters however give it,) yet the connection is so natural, one might almost say, inevitable, that, had we this passage alone, all would take it so. How much more would one think so when the eleventh chapter seems so entirely to confirm this?
Let it be remembered that Greece was one of the provinces of the Roman empire., and as such would seem to be subject to it upon its revival, whether or not the bond with it be broken before the end. Why not a combination of powers and motives in the commission of this last blasphemous crime, even as in the cross Jew and Gentile were linked together? The instrument is no doubt the antichristian power in Judea, but the Grecian power may none the less have its full part, and both of these be in subordination to the head of the western empire.
Part 4: The Earth-Trial
(vv. i - 5.)
The manifestation of evil is complete; we are now to see God's dealings as to it. These acts of Satan and his ministers are a plain challenge of all His rights in Israel and the earth; and further patience would be no longer patience, but dishonour. Hence we find now, as in answer to the challenge, the Lamb upon Mount Zion, - that is, upon David's seat; and as the beast's followers have his mark upon them, so the followers of Christ, associated with Him here, have His and His Father's name upon their foreheads. What this means can scarcely be mistaken.
Zion is not only identified in Scripture with David and his sovereignty, but very plainly with the sovereign grace of God, when everything intrusted to man had failed in Israel, priesthood had broken down, the ark gone into captivity in the enemy's land, and although restored by the judgment of God upon the Philistines, was no more sought unto in the days of Saul. He, though Jehovah's anointed king, had become apostate. All might seem to have gone, but it was not so; and in this extremity, as the seventy-eighth psalm says, "Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep,.. and He smote His adversaries backward. Moreover, He refused the tent of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim, but chose the tribe of Judah - the Mount Zion which He loved.... He chose also David His servant." Nor was this a temporary choice: as a later psalm adds, "For Jehovah hath chosen Zion ; He hath desired it for His habitation. This is My rest forever : here will I dwell, for I have desired it." (Ps. cxxxii. 13, 14.)
Thus, though the long interval of so many centuries may seem to argue repentance upon God's part, it is not really so : "God is not man, that He should lie ; nor the son of man, that He should repent." The Lamb on Zion shows us the true David on the covenanted throne, and Zion by this lifted above the hills indeed. The vision is of course anticipative, for by and by we find that the beast still exists. The end is put first, as it is with Him who sees it from the beginning, and then we trace the steps that lead up to it.
But who are the hundred and forty-four thousand associated with the Lamb? Naturally one would identify them with the similar number sealed out of the twelve tribes in the seventh chapter, and the more so that the Lamb's and His Father's name upon their foreheads seems to be the effect of this very sealing, which was upon the forehead also. No other mark is given us as to them in the former vision, of whom we read as exempted from the power of the locusts afterward. Here, if it is not directly affirmed that these are sealed, yet it seems evident, a seal having been often a stamp with a name and the purpose of the sealing in the former case being to mark them out as God's, this is manifestly accomplished by the name upon them. This open identification with Christ in the day of His rejection might seem to be what would expose them to all the power of the enemy, yet it is that which in fact marks them for security. In reality, what a protection is the open confession of Christ as the One we serve ! There is, in fact, no safer place for us than that of necessary conflict under the Lord's banner ; and the end is glory. Here they stand - these confessors, openly confessed by Him on His side and their having been through the suffering and the conflict is just that which brings them here upon the mount of royalty : it is "if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him."
Another inestimable privilege they have got, though clearly an earthly, not a heavenly company: they are able to learn "a song that is sung in heaven." And I heard a voice from heaven, as a voice of many waters, and as a voice of great thunder; and the voice which I heard was of harpers harping with their harps; and they sing a new song before the throne, and before the four living beings and the elders: and no one was able to learn the song, except the hundred and forty-four thousand that were purchased from the earth."
It is clear that the company here occupy a place analogous to that of the Gentile multitude of the seventh chapter, who stand before the throne and the living ones also. The vision in either case being anticipative, we can understand that earth and heaven are at this time brought near together, and that "standing" before the throne and "singing" before the throne involve no necessary heavenly place for those who sing or stand there. Here they stand upon Mount Zion while they sing before the throne, - if, that is, the singers are primarily the hundred and forty-four thousand, as many think. What seems in opposition to this is that the voice is heard from heaven, and that the company on Mount Zion are spoken of as learners of the song. On the other side, the difficulty is in answering the question, Who are these harpers, plainly human ones, who are distinguished from the elders, yet in heaven at this time? Remembering what the time is may help us here. May they not be the martyrs of the period with which the prophecy in general has to do, - those seen when the fourth seal is opened, and those for whom they are bidden to wait - the sufferers under the beast afterward two classes which are seen as completing the ranks of the first resurrection in the twentieth chapter. These would give us a third class, evidently - neither the heavenly elders nor the sealed ones of israel ; and yet in closest sympathy with the latter. It could not be thought strange that these should be able to learn their song. And at the time when the Lamb is King on Zion., this third class would certainly be found filling such a place as that of the harpers here.
This seems to meet every difficulty, indeed: for their song would clearly be a new song, such as neither the Old Testament nor the revelation of the Church-mystery could account for; while the living victors over the beast would seem rightly here to enter into the song of others, rather than to originate it themselves.
But they have their own peculiar place, as on Mount Zion, first-fruits of earth's harvest to God and to the Lamb, purchased from among men, (grace, through the blood of Christ, the secret of their blessing, as of all other,) but answering to that claim in a true undefiled condition, in virgin-faithfulness to Him who is afresh espousing Israel to Himself. In their mouth thus no lie is found, for they are blameless: and these last words we shall surely read aright when we remember that to those who have not received the love of the truth, "God will send strong delusion, that they may believe the lie" (2 Thess. ii. ii), and the apostle's question, "Who is the liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?" and that "he is the antichrist who denieth the Father and the Son." (I Jno. ii. 21, 22.) The names of the Lamb and of His Father are on the foreheads of these sealed ones.
THE EVERLASTING GOSPEL
(vv. 6, 7.)
It is a foregleam of the day that comes that the first vision of this chapter shows us: but, although the day is coming fast, we have first to see the harbingers of judgment, and then the judgment, before it can arrive. Righteousness, unheeded when it spoke in grace, must now speak in judgment, that "the work of righteousness" may be "peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever." (Isa. xxxii. 17.)
In this way it is that we come now to what seems to us perhaps a strange, sad gospel, and yet is the everlasting one, which an "angel flying in mid-heaven," preaches to the inhabitants of the earth. And this is what his voice declares: "Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth and the sea and the fountains of waters."
How any one could confound this gospel of judgment with the gospel of salvation by the cross would seem hard to understand, except as we realize how utterly the difference of dispensations has been ignored in common teaching, and how it is taken as a matter of course that the "gospel "must be always one and the same gospel; which even the epithet "everlasting" is easily taken to prove. Does it not indeed assert it ? - that the same gospel was preached, of course, in a clearer or a less clear fashion, all through the dispensation of law and before it?
No doubt the everlasting gospel must be that which from the beginning was preached, and has been preaching ever since, although it should be plain that "the hour of His judgment is come" is just what with truth no one in Christian times could say. Plain it is too that the command to worship God the Creator is not what any one who knew the gospel could take as that. In fact, the gospel element, or glad tidings, in the angel message is just found in that which seems most incongruous with it to-day - that the "hour of His judgment is come." What else in it is "tidings" at all? That certainly is; and if serious, yet to those who know that just in this way deliverance is to come for the earth, it is simple enough that the coming of the delivering judgment is in fact the gospel.
Listen to that same gospel, as a preacher of old declared it. With what a rapture of exultation does he cry, -
"Oh sing unto the Lord a new song!
Sing unto the Lord, all the earth.
Sing unto the Lord, bless His name;
Show forth His salvation from day to day!
Declare His glory among the nations,
His marvellous works among all the peoples!
* * * * * *
Tremble before Him, all the earth!
Say among the nations that the Lord reigneth;
The world also is established, that it cannot be moved:
He shall judge the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice!
Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof!
Let the field exult, and all that is therein!
Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy before the Lord;
For He cometh, for He cometh, to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth !"
Here is a gospel before Christianity; and it has been sounding out all through Christianity, whether men have heard it or have not. And it is but the echo of what we hear in Eden., before the gate of the first paradise shuts upon the fallen and guilty pair, that the seed of the woman shall crush the serpent's head. That is a gospel which has been ringing through the ages since, and which may well be called the everlasting one. Its form is only altered by the fact that now at last its promise is to be fulfilled. "Judgment" is now to "return to righteousness." The "rod" is "iron," but henceforth in the Shepherd's hand. Man's day is past, the day of the Lord is come; and every blow inflicted shall be on the head of evil, the smiting down of sorrow and of all that brings it. What can he be but rebel-hearted, who shall refuse to join the anthem when the King-Creator comes into His own again? The angel-evangel is thus a claim for worship from all people, and to Him that cometh every knee shall bow.
THE FALL OF BABYLON
That the message of judgment is indeed a "gospel" we find plainly in the next announcement, which is marked as that of a "second" angel, a "third" following, similar in character, as we shall see directly. Here it is announced that Babylon the Great has fallen: before, indeed, her picture has been presented to us, which we find only in the seventeenth chapter. The name itself is, however, significant, as that of Israel 's great enemy, under whose power she lay prostrate seventy years, and itself derived from God's judgment upon an old confederation, the seat of which became afterward the centre of Nimrod's empire. But that was not Babylon the Great, although human historians would have given her, no doubt, the palm; with God, she was only the type of a power more arrogant and evil and defiant of Him than the old Chaldean despot, and into whose hands the Church of Christ has fallen, - the heavenly, not the earthly people. It is an old history rehearsed in a new sphere and with other names, - a new witness of the unity of man morally in every generation.
The sin on account of which it falls reminds us still of Babylon., while it has also its peculiar aggravation. Of her of old it was said, " Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord's hand that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunk of her wine; therefore the nations are mad." (Jer. Ii. 7.) But it is not said, "the wine of the fury of her fornication." This latter expression shows that Babylon is not here a mere political but a spiritual power. One who belongs professedly to Christ has prostituted herself to the world for the sake of power. She has inflamed the nations with unholy principles, which act upon men's passions, (easily stirred,) as we see, in fact, in Rome. By such means she has gained and retained power; by such, after centuries of change, she holds it still. But the time is at hand when they will at last fall, and this is what the angel declares now to have come. Babylon is fallen, and that fall is final: it is the judgment of God upon her; it is retributive justice for centuries of corruption; it is a note of the everlasting gospel, which claims the earth for God, and announces its deliverance from its oppressors. But we have yet only the announcement: the details will be given in due place.
THE WARNING TO THE BEAST-WORSHIPPERS.
(vv. 9 - 13.)
A third angel follows, noted as that, and belonging, therefore, to the company of those that bring the gospel of blessing for the earth. That it comes in the shape of a woe, we have seen to be in no wise against this. Babylon is not the only evil which must perish that Christ may reign; and Babylon 's removal only makes way at first for the full development of another form of it more openly blasphemous than this. The woman makes way for the man, - what professes at least subjection to Christ, for that which is open revolt against Him. Here, therefore, the woe threatened is far more sweeping and terrible than in the former case; there are people of God who come out of Babylon., and who therefore were in her to come out (chap. xviii. 4). But the beast in its final form insures the perdition of all who follow it: "If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead or in his hand, the same shall drink " - or "he also shall drink" - "of the wine of the wrath of God which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever; and they have no rest, day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name."
It is the beast who destroys Babylon., after having for a time supported her: his own pretension tolerates no divided allegiance, and in him the unbelief of a world culminates in self-worship. Here God's mercy can only take the form of loud and emphatic threatening of extreme penalty for those who worship the beast. In proportion to the fearful character of the evil does the Lord give open assurance of the doom upon it, so that none may unknowingly incur it. Here "the patience of the saints" is sustained in a "reign of terror" such as has never yet been.
Faith too is sustained in another way, namely, by the special consolation as to those who die as martyrs at this time: "And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord from henceforth.'" That is clearly encouragement under peculiar circumstances. All who die in the Lord must be blessed at any time; but that only makes it plainer that the circumstances must be exceptional now which require such comfort to be so expressly provided for them. Something must have produced a question as to the blessedness of those that die at this time; and in this we have an incidental confirmation - stronger because incidental - that the resurrection of the saints has already taken place. Were they still waiting to be raised, the blessedness of those who as martyrs join their company could scarcely be in doubt. The resurrection having taken place, and the hope of believers being now to enter alive into the kingdom of the Son of Man at His appearing, - as the Lord says of that time, "He that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved" (Matt. xxiv. 13), - the question is necessarily raised. What shall be the portion of these martyrs, then, must not remain a question; and in the tenderness of divine love the answer is here explicitly given. Specially blessed are those who die from henceforth: they rest from their labours; they go to their reward. The Spirit seals this with a sweet confirming "yea" - so it is. Earth has only cast them out that heaven may receive them; they have suffered, therefore they shall reign with Christ. Thus accordingly we find in the twentieth chapter, that when the thrones are set and filled, those that have suffered under the beast are shown as rising from the dead to reign with the rest of those who reign with Him. Not the martyrs in general, but these of this special time are marked distinctly as finding acknowledgment and blessing in that "first resurrection," from which it might have seemed that they were shut out altogether.
It may help some to see how similar was the difficulty that had to be met for the Thessalonian saints, and which the apostle meets also with a special "word of the Lord" in his first epistle. They too were looking for the Lord, so that the language of their hearts was (with that of the apostle), "We who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord." They had been "turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven;" and with a lively and expectant faith they waited.
But then what about those who were fallen asleep in Christ? It is evident that here is all their difficulty. He would not have them ignorant concerning those that were asleep, so as to be sorrowing for them, hopeless as to their share in the blessing of that day. Nay, those who remained would not go before these sleeping ones: they would rise first, and those who were alive would then be "caught up with them, to meet the Lord in the air." This for Christians now is thus the authoritative word of comfort. But the sufferers under the beast would not find this suffice for them; for them the old difficulty appears once more, and must be met with a new revelation.
How perfect and congruous in all its parts is this precious Word of God! And how plainly we have in what might seem even an obscure or strange expression -"blessed from henceforth"- a confirmation of the general interpretation of all this part of Revelation! The historical interpretation, however true, as a partial anticipatory fulfillment, fails here in finding any just solution.
THE HARVEST AND THE VINTAGE
(vv. 14 - 20.)
In the next vision the judgment falls. The Son of Man upon the cloud, the harvest, the treading of the wine-press, are all familiar to us from other Scriptures, and in connection with the appearing of the Lord. We need have no doubt, therefore, as to what is before us here.
The "harvest" naturally turns us back to our Lord's parable, where wheat and tares represent the mingled aspect of the kingdom, the field of Christendom. "Tares" are not the fruit of the gospel, but the enemy's work, who sows not the truth of God, but an imitation of it. The tares are thus the 'children of the wicked one,' deniers of Christ, though professing Christians. The harvest brings the time of separation, and first the tares are gathered and bound in bundles for the burning, and along with this the wheat is gathered into the barn. In the interpretation afterward we have a fuller thing: the tares are cast into the fire, and the righteous shine forth as the sun in their Father's kingdom.
Here the general idea of harvest would be the same, though it does not follow that it will be a harvest of the same nature. In the harvest-time there are crops reaped of various character: the thought is of discriminative judgment, such as with the sheep and goats of Matt. xxv. There is what is gathered in, as well as what is cast away, and hence the Son of Man is here as that. The vintage-judgment is pure wrath: the grapes are cast into the great wine-press of the wrath of God, and thus it is the angel out of the altar, who has power over the fire, at whose word it comes. The vine of the earth is a figure suitable to Israel as God's vine (Is. v.), but apostate, yet cannot be confined to Israel., as is plain from the connection in which we find it elsewhere. But it represents still apostasy, and thus what we have seen to have its centre at Jerusalem., though involving Gentiles also far and near. Thus the city also outside of which the wine-press is trodden is Jerusalem., as the sixteen hundred furlongs is well known to be the length of Palestine. Blood flows up to the bits of the horses for that distance - of course, a figure, but a terrible one.
Both figures - the harvest and the vintage - are used in Joel, with reference to this tune: "Proclaim ye this among the nations; prepare war: stir up the mighty men; let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning-hooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. Haste ye, and come, all ye nations round about, and gather yourselves together: thither cause Thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord! Let the nations bestir themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat : for there will I sit to judge all the nations round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, tread ye, for the wine-press is full, the vats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! for the day of the Lord is near in the valhy of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. And the Lord shall roar from Zion., and utter His voice from, Jerusalem ; and the heaven and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be a refuge unto His people, and a stronghold to the children of Israel."
Thus comes the final blessing, and the picture upon which the eye rests at last is a very different one. "So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God, dwelling in Zion My holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord and water the valley of Shittim..,.. And I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the Lord dwelleth in Zion."
Part 5: The Vials of Wrath
(Chap. XV., XVI.)
THE CHARACTER OF THE JUDGMENT COMING (Chap. xvi)
The visions of the last chapter plainly reach to the end of judgment in the coming of the Lord Himself. The vials, therefore, cannot come after these or go beyond them: in fact, the coming of the Lord is not openly reached in them, though it may seem implied, for in the vials is filled up the wrath of God. But the coming of the Lord, although necessary to complete the judgment, is yet so much more than this, that it would seem even out of place in a vial of wrath.
In the fourteenth chapter, where it is the Lamb's answer to the challenge of the enemy, He does indeed appear: He comes out Himself to answer. But in this also there is more than judgment. The manifestation of Antichrist is met by the manifestation of Christ, as the day antagonizes and chases away the night; but the day then is come. In the vials there is simply the destruction of the evil; and while the previous visions classify in a divine way the objects of wrath, the vials give us rather the history in detail, - the succession of events; though this, of course, like all else, has divine meaning in it. All history has: the difficulty is, with what is common history, to get the facts distinctly and in proportion, which the inspiration of Scripture-history secures for us. But along with this, we have here, what is obscured so much to men, heaven's action in earth's history; and heaven is acting in a more direct manner now that the end is at hand, and the wrath stored up for many generations is to burst upon the earth at last. "And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, - seven angels having seven plagues - the last; for in them is finished the wrath of God." The one bright word here is "FINISHED." For the earth at large, it is indeed so. Judgment comes, as we shall see, at the close of the millennium, upon a special, though, alas, a numerous class; but it is, nevertheless, not earth that rebels, nor can the hand that holds the sceptre be any more displaced. How the voice of the "everlasting gospel" sounds in that word, "finished "! But in proportion as the judgment is final now, so must it be complete, conclusive. All limitations are now removed: the rod of iron thoroughly does its work. As in the Lord's answer to His disciples' question as to this very period: "Wheresoever the carcass" - the corruption that provokes God's anger -"is, there will the eagles be gathered together."
But first - and this is the style of prophecy, as we have seen, - before the judgment strikes, the gathering clouds are for a moment parted, that we may see, not the whose good achieved, but the care of God over His own, who in this scene might seem to have found only defeat and forsaking. Only one righteous Man was ever really forsaken. And we are permitted to see how, in fact, He has but hidden in His own pavillion, from the strife of men, those who amid the battle drop down and are lost to sight. "And I saw as it were a sea of glass, mingled with fire; and those that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over the number of his name, standing upon the sea of glass, having harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of ages. Who shall not fear, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for Thou only art holy; for all nations shall come and worship before Thee; for Thy righteous acts have been made manifest.'"
The sea of glass answers to the brazen sea - the layer of the temple; but it is glass, not water: purification is over, with the need of it; the fire mingled with it indicates what they have passed through, which God has used for blessing to their souls. That they are a special class cannot be questioned, - martyrs under the beast, who have found victory in defeat, and are perfected and at rest before the throne of God.
They sing a mingled song - of Moses and of the Lamb, conquerors as those who were delivered out of Egypt., but by the might of Him who goes forth as a "man of war" for the deliverance of His people. The song of the Lamb looks to the Victories recorded in this book, in which the "works" of the Lord God Almighty of the Old Testament are repeated by Him who as King of the ages manifests thus His "ways" as true and righteous throughout the dispensations.
Divine promises are being fulfilled : God is once more taking up the cause of His ancient people, while the sufferers in Christian times are no less being vindicated, and their enemies judged. Great Babylon., with the blood of the prophets in her skirts, comes into remembrance before God. He has not slept, when most He seemed to do so; and now acts in judgment that makes all men fear. Ripened iniquity, come to a head, wherever we may look, claims the harvest-sickle. The open challenge of the enemy brooks no delay in answering it. It is the only hope for the earth itself, which will learn righteous. ness when His judgments are in it. While the New Testament here coalesces with the voice of prophecy in the Old, and the cycle of the ages is completed and returns into itself, only with a Second Man, a new creation and the paradise of God. Truly Christ is "King of the ages."
And now the temple of the tabernacle of testimony is opened, where the ark of His covenant has been already seen. Faithful to that covenant now, in which Israel and the earth are together ordained to blessing, the seven angels with the seven last plagues issue forth as the result of that faithfulness. Thus they are arrayed in pure white linen, and girded with golden girdles: it is the glory of God in behalf of which they serve, as the bowls or vials are also golden, and filled with His wrath. From the glory of God and from His power smoke fills the temple. None can therefore approach to intercede. There can be no more delay: long-suffering patience is exhausted: "no one was able to enter into the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled."
THE VIALS OF WRATH
The vials of wrath are now poured out upon the earth at the bidding of a great voice from the temple. The wrath of God is no mere ebullition of passion that carries away the subject of it. It waits the word from the sanctuary; and at length that eventful word is spoken. Completing the divine judgments, the range of the vials is not narrower than that of the prophetic earth, and in this, differ from the trumpet-series which otherwise they much resemble. Another resemblance which is significant is to the plagues of Egypt., which were at once a testimony to the world and for the deliverance of Israel. Israel is here also in her last crisis of trouble, and waiting for deliverance, for which these judgments, no doubt, prepare the way, though that which alone accomplishes it, the coming of the Lord Himself, is not plainly included.
The first vial is poured out distinctively, in contrast with the sea and rivers, etc., upon the earth, like the first trumpet-judgment; but the effect is different: an evil and grievous sore breaks out upon those that have the mark of the beast, and that worship his image. In Egypt such a plague routed their wise men so that they could not stand before Moses. According to the natural meaning of such a figure, it would speak of inward corruption which is made now to appear outwardly in what is painful, loathsome, and disfiguring; those who had accepted the beast's mark being thus otherwise marked and branded with what is a sign of their moral condition. As the apostle shows (Rom. i.) idolatry is itself the sign of corruption which would degrade God into creature semblance in order to give free rein to its lusts. Here it is openly the worship of the image of him whom Scripture stamps as the "beast," which those branded with his mark give themselves up to. The excesses of the French revolution, when God was dethroned to make way for a prostitute on the altar of Notre Dame, if they be not, as some have thought them, the fulfillment of this vial, may yet sufficiently picture to us how it may be fulfilled in a time of trouble such as never was before, and, thank God, such as never will be afterward.
The second vial is poured out on the sea, and the sea becomes like the blood of a dead man, and every living soul dies in the sea. Here we have the second trumpet in its effect upon the sea, but without the limitation there. And there seems a difference also, in that the blood is as of a dead man. It cannot be that it is merely dead blood, for all blood shed becomes that almost at once, and the sea turned into blood would by itself suggest death without the addition. Would it not rather seem to be, that the blood of a dead man, while it is indeed dead blood, is also that which has not been shed? Life has not been violently taken, but lost through disease or natural decay. Thus in the law that which had died of itself was forbidden as food, because it spoke of internal corruption, as the life still vigorous when the blood was shed did not. If this thought be the true one, then the state imaged under the second vial is not that of strife and bloodshed among the nations, but of professed spiritual life gone, which the addition, "Every living soul died in the sea," affirms as complete. Life there might be in hunted and outlawed men, no longer recognized as part of the nations; but the mass was dead. This seems to me the only thought that gives consistently the full force of the expressions.
The third vial is poured out upon the rivers and fountains of waters, the sphere affected by the third trumpet but in the trumpet they are made bitter, now they become blood, which, as owned to be the judgment of God upon persecutors, seems clearly to speak of bloodshed: they are given blood to drink. Where naturally there should be only sources of refreshment, as perhaps in family life, there are found instead strife and the hand of violence. The angel of the waters may be in this case the representative of that tender care of the Creator over the creature-life, which in this case comes to be against the persecutor and applauds His judgments; as the altar does, upon which the lives of the martyrs have been poured out to God. This seems to consist well with what has been given as the interpretation of the second seal.
The fourth angel pours his vial upon the sun, and it scorches men with its heat ; but they only blaspheme God's name, and repent not. Here, as often, the head of civil authority seems to be represented; and Napoleon's career has been taken as in the historical application the fulfillment of it. In him after the immorality, apostasy, and bloodshed of that memorable revolution, imperial power blazed out in a destructive fierceness, that might well be symbolized as scorching heat. There was splendour enough, but it was not "a pleasant sight to behold the sun :" the nation over which he ruled was oppressed with "glory," and soon manifested how its vitality had been exhausted by its hot-house growth. His career was brief; and briefer still in proportion to its intensity will be the closing despotism, which will be followed by the kingdom of the Son of Man, and the display of a true glory unseen by the world before. Then shall that be fulfilled which is written: "the Sun shall not smite thee by day," and how great will be the joy of this that is added, "thy Sun shall no more go down;... the Lord shall be thine everlasting Light." (Is. lx. 20.)
The fifth vial is poured out, and the meteoric blaze is passed. Poured on the throne of the beast, darkness spreads over his kingdom. It is the foreshadow of that final withdrawal of light, the "outer darkness" of that awful time, when they who have so often bidden God withdraw from them will be taken at their word. But who out of hell can tell what that will be? The sun has ascribed to it by the science of the day more than ever was before done; but who at any time could have said to the glowing sun, Depart from me: I desire darkness? Yet this is what they say to God.
Nor does the darkness work repentance: "They gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven, because of their pains and sores, and repented not of their deeds." Such is the hardening character of sin ; and such is the impotence of judgment in itself to break the heart and subdue the soul to God.
So far, spite of the general character of the vials, they seem to have to do almost entirely with the beast and his followers; and these are, as we know, the principal enemies of Israel, and the boldest in defiance of God, at the time of the end. Nevertheless there are other adversaries besides those of the new risen empire of the west. The king of the north or of Greece is evidently in opposition at the close to the "king"in the land of Israel., who is the viceroy of the beast in Judea. (Dan. xi.) This king of Greece also, if mighty, is so "not by his own power." (Dan. viii. 24.) There is behind him, in fact, a mightier prince, who in Ezek. xxxviii. - xxxix, comes clearly into view as head of many eastern nations, Gog, of the land of Magog., the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal; Persia., Cush and Phut with the house of Togarmah, (Armenia.,) being confederate with him. This is not the place to look at the people to whom all these names refer. Magog, the first of them, by common consent, stands for the Scythians, who, "mixed with the Medes," says Fausset, "became the Sarmatians, whence sprang the Russians." Rosh is thus by more than sound connected with Russia., as Meshech and Tubal may have given their names, but slightly changed, to Moscow and Toboisk. The connection with Persia and Armenia., and with Greece no less, is easily intelligible at the present day.
Here are powers, then, outside the revived Roman empire, which we find in relation with Israel at the time of the end, and which will find their place in the valley of Jehoshaphat ("Jehovah's judgment") in the day when the Lord sits there to judge all the, nations round about. (Joel iii. 12.) Accordingly now, under the sixth vial, the way is prepared for this, and the gathering is accomplished. The sixth vial is poured out upon "the great river Euphrates.," the effect being that the water is dried up," that the ways of the kings of the east may be prepared." The Euphrates is the scene also of the sixth trumpet, which would seem to give but a previous incursion of the same powers that are contemplated here, the door being now set widely open for them by the drying up of the river, the boundary of the Roman empire in the past. In the trumpet there was but an inroad upon the empire; now there is much more than this: it is the gathering for the great day of God Almighty!
Accordingly all the powers of evil are at work: three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet; for they are the spirits of demons, working miracles, who go forth unto the kings of the whole world, to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God Almighty!... And they gathered them together unto the place which is called in Hebrew Har-Magedon." The frogs are creatures of slime and of the night, blatant, impudent impotents, cheap orators, who can yet gather men for serious work. Here, those brought together little know whom they go to meet; but this is the common history of men revealed in its true character. The cross has shown it to us on the one side; the conflict of the last days shows it on the other. The vail of the world is removed, and it. is seen here what influences carry them: the dragon, the spirit of a wisdom which, being, "earthly," is "sensual, devilish" (Jas, iii. 15,); the "beast," the influence of power, which apostate from God is bestial (Ps. xlix. zo,); the "false prophet," the inspiration of hopes that are not of God: so the mass are led.
Har-magedon is the "mount of slaughter." We read of Megiddo in the Old Testament as a "valley," not a mountain ; whether it refers to this or no, the phrase seems equivalent to the "mountain of the slain," a mountain of heaped up corpses. To this, ignorant of what is before them, they are gathered.
A note of urgent war.ning is interjected here: no need of declaring the Speaker! "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his Shame." It is to the world Christ's coming will be that of a thief; for "in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh." "Blessed is he that watcheth"is, as we see by the closing words, a solemn warning to the heedless. Who will be ready at this time to hear? In any case, wisdom will utter its voice ; and none shall go out to meet unwarned the doom of the rebellious. Good it is to find just in this place, whether heeded or not, the plead. ing of mercy. Not the less terrible on that account the doom that comes.
And now the seventh angel pours his vial into the air. Of "the power of the air" Satan is the prince (Eph. ii. 2), and all Satan's realm is shaken. A great voice breaks out of the throne, saying, It is done; and there are lightnings, and voices, and thunders, - the "voices" showing the lightnings and thunders between which they come to be no mere natural tempest, but divinely guided judgment. There is an unparalleled convulsion; and the great city (Babylon or, as it is applied here, Rome) is divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations generally fall. It is added as to a special object of the divine judgment, - "And Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give unto her the cup of wine of the fierceness of His wrath." This is in brief what is given presently in detail. Babylon has only once before been named in Revelation; but the two following chapters treat of it in full.
Then "every island fled away:" as I suppose, there is no isolation of any from the storm; "and the mountains were not found:" no power so great but it is humbled and brought low. " And a great hail, every stone about a talent weight, fell down from God out of heaven upon men: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great."
In the hail the effect of God's withdrawal from men is seen in judgment. The source of light and heat are one; and for the soul God is the source: the hail speaks not of mere withdrawal, but of this becoming a pitiless storm of judgment which subdues all, except, alas! the heart of man which, while his anguish owns the power from which he suffers, remains in its hard impenitency the witness and justification of the wrath it has brought down.
Part 6: Babyon and Her Overthrow
(Chap. xvii. - xix. 4.)
Babylon is already announced as fallen in the fourteenth chapter, and as judged of God under the seventh vial; but we have not yet seen what Babylon is, and we are not to be left to any uncertainty: she has figured too largely in human history, and is too significant a lesson every way, to be passed over in so brief a manner. We are therefore now to be taught the "mystery of the woman." For she is a mystery; not like the Babylon of old, the plain and straightforward enemy of the people of God: she is an enigma, a riddle, so hard to read that numbers of God's people in every age have taken her, harlot as she is, for the chaste spouse of the Lamb. Yet here for all ages the riddle has been solved for those who are close enough to God to understand it.
And the figure is gaudy enough to attract all eyes to her - seeking even to do so. Let us look with care into what is before us in these chapters, in which the woman is evidently the central object, the beast on which she is sitting being only viewed in its relation to her. It is one of the angels of the vials who exhibits her to the apostle, and his words naturally show us what she is characteristically as the object of divine judgment. As described by him, she is "the great whore that sitteth upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication." As brought into sharp contrast with the beast that carries her, we see that she is a woman, has the human form, as the beast has not. A beast knows not God; and in Daniel we have found the Gentile power losing the human appearance which it has in the king's dream to take the bestial, as in the vision of the prophet. In Nebuchadnezzar personally we see what causes the change; - that it is pride of heart which forgets dependence upon God. The woman, on the other hand, professedly owns God, and moreover, as a woman, takes the place of subjection to the man, - in the symbol here, to Christ. When she is removed by judgment, the true bride is seen, to whom she is in contrast, and not (as so many think) to the woman of the twelfth chapter, who is mother, not bride, of Christ, and represents Israel.
But the woman here is a harlot, in guilty relation with the kings of the earth. Her lure is manifestly ambition, the desire of power on earth, the refusal of the cross of Christ, - the place of rejection; and the wine - the intoxication - of her fornication makes drunk the "dwellers upon earth." These we have already seen to be a class of persons who with a higher profession have their hearts on earthly things. (Phil. iii. i9; Rev. iii. xo; xi. 10; xiii. 8.) These naturally drink in the poison of her doctrine.
To see her, John is carried away, however, into the wilderness; for the earth is that, and all the efforts of those who fain would do so cannot redeem it from this. There he sees the woman sitting on a scarlet-coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy; easily identified as the beast of previous visions by its seven heads and ten horns.
The beast is in a subjection to the woman which we should not expect. It is the imperial power, but in a position contrary to its nature as imperial, in this harmonizing with the interpretation of the angel afterward, - the "beast that was, and is not." In some sort it is ; in some sort it is not; and this we have to remember, as we think of its heads and horns. If the beast "is not," necessarily its heads and horns are not. These are for identification, not as if they were existing while the woman is being carried by it. In fact, she is now its head, and reigns over its body, over the mass that was and that will be again the empire, but now "is not."
What are we to say of the scarlet colour and the names of blasphemy? Are they prospective, like the horns? The latter seems so, evidently, and therefore it is more consistent to suppose the former also. The difficulty of which may be relieved somewhat by the evident fact, that of these seven heads, only one exists at a time, as we see by the angel's words: the seven seen at once are again for identification, not as existing simultaneously. The scarlet colour is that which typifies earthly glory which is simply that: the beast's reign has no link with heaven. That it is full of names, not merely words, of blasphemy, speaks of the assumption of titles which are divine, and therefore blasphemous to assume. Altogether we see that it is the beast of the future that is presented here, but which could not really exist while carrying the woman. She could not exist in this relation to him, he being the beast that he is, and thus the expression is fully justified, - really alone explains the matter - the "beast that is not, and will be."
There is clearly an identification of a certain kind all through. While the woman reigns, that over which she reigns is still in nature but the beast that was, and that after her reign will again be. There is no fundamental change all through. The Romanized nations controlled by Rome are curbed, not changed. And breaking from the curb, as did revolutionary France at the close of the last century, the wild beast fangs and teeth at once display themselves.
But we are now called to the consideration of the woman, who, as reigning as the professed spouse of Christ over what was once the Roman empire, is clearly seen to be what, as a system, we still call Rome: "that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth;" which did so even in John's time, although to him appearing in a garb so strange that when he sees her he wonders with a great wonder.
She is apparelled in purple and scarlet, for she claims spiritual as well as earthly authority, and these are colours which Rome., as we know, affects, God thus allowing her even to the outward eye to assume the livery of her picture in Revelation. She is decked too with gold and precious stones and pearls, figures of really divine and spiritual truths, which, however, she only outwardly adorns herself with, and indeed uses to make more enticing the cup of her intoxication: "having a golden cup in her hand," says the apostle, "full of abominations and filthiness of her fornications." Now we have her name: "And upon her forehead was a name written, 'Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth.'"
Her name is Mystery, yet it is written in her forehead. Her character is plain if only you can read it. If you are pure, you may soon know that she is not. If you are true, you may quite easily detect her falsehood. In lands where she bears sway, as represented in this picture, she has managed to divorce morality from religion, that all the world knows the width of the breach. Her priests are used to convey the sacraments, and one need not look at the hands too closely that do so needful a work. In truth it is an affair of the hands, with the magic of a little breath, by means of which the most sinful of His creatures can create the God that made him, and easily new create another mortal like himself. This is a great mystery, which she herself conceives as "sacrament," and you may see this clearly on her forehead then. It is the trick of her trade, which without it could not exist. With it, a little oil and water and spittle become of marvellous efficacy, a capital stock at least out of which at the smallest cost the church creates riches and power, and much that has unquestionable value in her eyes. " Babylon the great" means "confusion the great."
Greater confusion there cannot be than that which confounds matter and spirit, creature and Creator, makes water to wash the soul, and brings the flesh of the Lord in heaven to feed literally with it men on earth. Yet to this is the larger part of Christendom captive, feeding on ashes, turned aside by a deceived heart, and they cannot deliver their souls, nor say, " Is there not a lie in my right hand ?" (Is. xliv. 20.)
Nay, this frightful system has scattered wide the seed of its false doctrine, and the harlot mother has daughters like herself: she is the "mother of harlots and abominations of the earth." Solemn words from the Spirit of truth, which may well search many hearts in systems that seem severed far from Rome., as well as those that more openly approach her. Who dare, with these awful scriptures before them, speak smooth things as to the enormities of Rome ? To be protestant is indeed in itself no sign of acceptance with God, but no, to be protestant is certainly not to be with God in a most important matter. This Roman Babylon is not, moreover, some future form that is to be, though it may develop into worse yet than we have seen. It is that which has been (in the paradoxal language which yet is so lively a representation of the truth) seated upon the beast while the beast "is not." It is Popery as we know it and have to do with it; and woe to kings and rulers who truckle to it, or (again in the bold Scripture words) commit fornication with it! "Come out from her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues!"
"And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus; and when I saw her," says the apostle, "I wondered with a great wonder." Romish apologists have been forced by the evidence to admit that it is Rome that is pictured here; but they say, and some Protestant interpreters have joined them in it. that it is pagan Rome. But how little cause of wonder to John in his Patmos banishment, that the heathen world should persecute the saints! That this same Rome., professing Christianity, should do it, this would be indeed a marvel. With us it is simple matter of history, and we have ceased to wonder; while, alas! it is true that many today no longer remember, and many more think we have no business to remember, the persecutor of old. It was the temper of those cruel times of old, many urge nineteenth century civilization has tamed the tiger, and Rome now loves her enemies, as the Christian should. But abundant testimony shows how false is this assertion. Here, just before her judgment, the apostle pronounces her condemnation for the murder of God's saints still unrepented of. The angel now explains the mystery, and begins with the beast. "The beast that was and is not" is clearly from the point of view of the vision, as has been said. The rule of the woman necessarily destroys beast- character, while it lasts. But the beast will awake from its long sleep: it is "about to come up out of the abyss, and to go into perdition." This coming up out of the abyss, however, as has been elsewhere said, does not seem to be merely the revival of the empire: the key of the abyss in the hands of the fallen star under the fifth trumpet, and the angel of the abyss being the person who by the two languages of his name is the "destroyer" of both Jew and Gentile, would lead us to believe that there was in it the working of satanic power. This is strengthened by the connection of this ascent with the "going into perdition" of that which comes up.
The previous revival under the seventh head would thus be passed over; and the prophecy hastens on to what is most important, the beast pictured here being identified This is contrary, however, to the view taken of it when considering the thirteenth chapter. But the difficulty of the "beast that was not" and the "one is," spoken of the heads of the beast, seems in this way to find a better solution. The paragraph as to this in the former place may therefore be considered cancelled. in fact, in the prophecy itself, with its own eighth head. (v. ii.) That it has only seven, as seen in the vision, is not against this if the seventh and eighth heads are the same person. The unhappy "dwellers upon the earth" wonder at this revival, whose names have not from the foundation of the world been written in the book of the Lamb slain. Divine grace is that alone which makes any to differ; and of this we are reminded here. The power that works in the revival of the beast is plainly beyond that of man; and how many in the present day seem to take for granted that what is more than human power must be divine. This is the essence of the "strong delusion" which God sends upon those who have not received the love of the truth that they might be saved. Powers and signs and lying wonders confirm the imperial last head in his pretension; and that they are "lying" means, not that they are mere juggling and imposition, but that they are made to foster lies. They shall wonder, "seeing how that the beast was and is not and shall be present [again]."
And "here is the mind that hath wisdom," - the divine secret for an understanding heart. First, as to the woman: "The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sitteth." Surely there need not be much doubt about the application of this; although some would apply it to a new Babylon yet to be built on the Euphrates., and others would make the interpreting word "mountains" to be still a figure of something else. They might indeed easily build Babylon again, that is merely looking at things from a human standpoint; but how could it be said of this new city that "in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all the slain upon the earth"?
That Rome was the seven-hilled city is familiar to every schoolboy; and its being a "geographical" mark need not make it unsuited to be one, as Lange believes. It makes it plain, as God would have it surely for His saints whose blood it would shed, and who would need the comfort of knowing that He was against this "Mother and Mistress of churches," with all her effrontery and the crowd that followed her.
God has even, if one might say so, gone out of the way to give a needed plain mark of identification. For it is not easy as a symbol to understand how the heads of the beast should be the seat of the woman. But this does not make it harder for identification, while it seems to illustrate the more the tender thought of God for His people, of which the tokens can never be too many, and in a place like this, of what special value!
But the heads are also seven kings, - consecutive, not contemporaneous rulers; for five had already fallen, one was, and another was yet to come, only to exist for a short time, the beast himself being the final one. Five forms of government have been given by the historians as preceding the imperial in Rome., this last being evidently the existing one in the apostle's day. "One is" we must take as applying to the apostle's day; for at the time of the vision the beast itself "is not," as we have seen. The only other time present would be the time in which the apostle lived himself.
The imperial head came to an end necessarily when the empire as a whole broke up under the attacks of the barbarians; and to make, as Barnes and others do, the exarch of Ravenna the seventh head of the world-empire is either to overlook the plain terms of the prophecy, or else to pervert the simple facts of history. The exarchate lasted about two hundred years, which Barnes considers (comparatively) but a "short time;" and the papacy he considers the eighth head. This falls with the exarchate; for the papacy would then be but the seventh, and nothing would correspond.
The seventh head began, according to Elliott, when Diocletian, already emperor, assumed the diadem, - the symbol of despotic sovereignty after the eastern fashion; and he quotes Gibbon's words, that, "like Augustus, Diocletian may be considered the founder of a new empire." But if this were the seventh head, there was a gap, between it and the papacy; and this must have been the time when the beast "was not." This is better in some respects than Barnes, and may be really an anticipative fulfillment, such as we find in the "historical" interpretation generally. But it fails when we come to apply it consistently all through, as where Elliott has to make the burning of the woman with fire by the ten horns to be merely the devastation of the city and the Campagna prior to their giving power to the beast, whereas it is really effected by the beast and the horns together, and is the complete end of the ecclesiastical system which the woman represents. It would be manifestly incongruous to suppose the papacy to hate and consume the Roman Catholic church.
The scheme of prophecy involved in all this, if taken as a whole, would destroy entirely the interpretation of Revelation which has been given in these papers, and is negatived by all the considerations that substantiate this. I do not propose, therefore, to go more fully into it. When the papacy ruled the empire, it had ceased to be in a proper sense, the empire, and then it was that according to the chapter before us, the beast "was not." The true bestial character could not co-exist with even the profession of Christianity.
The beast is necessarily, therefore, secular, not ecclesiastical. When the secular empire fell, the beast was not; though in that contradictory condition the woman might ride it. Since that fall there has been no revival, and therefore as yet no seventh head. The seventh head is constituted that, as I believe, by the union of ten portions of the divided territory to give him power; and the preponderance of Russia in Europe might easily bring about a coalition of this kind. The new imperial head lasts but a short time, is smitten with the sword, possibly degraded to the condition of a "little horn," is revived by the dreadful power of Satan acting through the anti-christian second beast of the thirteenth chapter, assumes the blasphemous character in whicn we have already seen him, and thus goes into perdition at the appearing of the Lord.
This is the beast, as Revelation contemplates him generally, identified with the eighth head, but who is of the seventh, in fact, the seventh, which had the wound by the sword, yet lived. Thus seen, all the passages seem to harmonize, - a harmony which is the main argument for the truth of such an interpretation of them.
"And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings which have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority as kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and give their power and authority unto the beast." Alas! they are united against God and against His Christ: "These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them, for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings; and they that are with Him, called, and chosen, and faithful."
Here we have anticipated the conflict of the nineteenth chapter. These that are with Christ are His redeemed people, as is plain. Angels might be "chosen and faithful," but only men are "called;" and when He comes forth as a warrior out of heaven, they, as "the armies that were in heaven, follow Him." The rod of iron which He has Himself is given to His people, and the closing scene in the conflict with evil sees them in active and earnest sympathy with Him. The waters where the harlot sat are next interpreted as "peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues." With another meaning and intent than where it is spoken of Israel., "her seed is in many waters." Her influence is wide-reaching and powerful; but it is brought to an end: "and the ten horns which thou sawest and the beast;"- so, and not "upon the beast," all authorities give it now - "these shall hate the harlot, and make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her up with fire," That surely is not a temporary infliction, but a full end; and beast and horns unite in it. She has trampled upon men, and, according to the law of divine retribution, it is done to her. This has been partially seen many times in the history of Rome., and the end of the last century was a dreadful warning of what is soon to come more terribly still upon her. The very profession of Christianity which she in time past used for purposes of gain and power over men will no doubt, by the same retributive law, become at last the millstone round her neck forever. And no eye will pity her. For it is God who has "put into their hearts to do His will, and to come to one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be accomplished."
How good to know amid all that day of terror that God is supreme above all, in all, the devices of His enemies! Still "He maketh the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of it He restraineth." And this is the time which will most fully demonstrate this. It is the day of the Lord1 upon all the pride of man to bring it low. It is the day when every refuge of lies shall be swept away, and all the vanity of his thoughts shall be exposed. "The idols He shall utterly abolish." Yea, those who have been their slaves shall fling them to the moles and to the bats. "And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day." Then the way is prepared for blessing, wide in proportion to the judgment which has introduced it.
The eighteenth chapter gives the judgment from the divine side. The question has been naturally raised, Is it another judgment? There is nothing here about beast or horns, - nothing of man's intervention at all, - and there are signs apparently of another and deeper woe than human hands could inflict. It is this last which is most conclusive in the way of argument, and we shall examine it in its place. Another angel descends out of heaven, having great authority: and the earth is lighted with his glory. Earth is indeed now to be lighted, and with a glory which is not of earth. Babylon is denounced as fallen, - not destroyed, as is plain by what follows, but given up to a condition which is a spiritual desolation, worse than the physical one of Babylon of old under which she has long lain, and from which the terms seem derived. She has become the dwelling place of demons - "knowing ones;" Satan's underlings, with the knowledge of many centuries of acquaintance with fallen men, and serpent craft to use their knowledge; a "hold of every unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hateful bird." The parable of the mustard seed comes necessarily to mind; and without confining the words here to that, it is amazing to see how deliberately filthy and impure Rome 's system is. She binds her clergy to celibacy, forces them to pollute their minds with the study of every kind of wickedness, and then by her confessional system teaches them to pour this out into the minds of those to whom she at once gives them access and power over them in the name of religion itself!
What has brought a professing Christian body into so terrible a condition as this bespeaks? We are answered here by reference once more to her spiritual fornication with the nations and with the kings of the earth, and to the profit which those make, who engage in her religious traffic. As worldly power is before all things her aim, and she has heaven to barter in return for it, the nations easily fall under her sway, and are intoxicated with the "wine of the fury " - the madness - "of her fornication." First of all, it is the masses at which she aims, and only as an expedient to secure these the better, with the kings of the earth. Thus she can pose as democratic among democrats, and as the protector of popular rights as against princes. In feudal times, the church alone could fuse into herself all conditions of men, turning the true and free equality of Chxistians into that which linked all together into vassalage to herself; and so the power grew which was power to debase herself to continually greater depths of evil. Simoniac to the finger-ends, with her it is a settled thing that the "gift of God can be purchased with money." And with her multiplicity of merchandise, which is put here in catalogue, there will naturally be an abundant harvest for brokers. With these, who live by her, she increases her ranks of zealous followers.
Another voice now sounds from heaven, -"Come forth from her, my people, that ye partake not of her sins, and that ye receive not her plagues; for her sins have heaped themselves to heaven and God hath remembered her unrighteousnesses."
Even in Babylon., and thus late, therefore, there are those in her who are the people of God. But they are called to separation. Rome is a false system which yet retains what is saving truth. Souls may be saved in it, but the truth it holds cannot save the false system in which it is found. Truth cannot save the error men would ally with it, nor error destroy the truth. There are children of God, alas! that "suffer Jezebel," but Jezebel's true children are another matter: "I will kill them with death " is God's emphatic word. The testing time comes when the roads that seemed to lie together are found to separate, and then the necessity of separation comes. Truth and error cannot lead to the same place, and he that pursues the road to the end will find what is at the end.
"Recompense to her as she recompensed; according to her works, double to her double: as she hath glorified herself, and lived luxuriously, so much torment and sorrow give her. For she said in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. Therefore in one day shall her plagues come on her, - death and sorrow and famine; and she shall be burned up with fire: for strong is the Lord God who hath judged her."
The government of God is equal handed, and for it the day of retribution cannot be lacking. "God hath remembered" Babylon at last. In truth, He never lost sight of her for a moment. But the wheels of His chariot seem often slow in turning, and there is purpose in it: "I gave her space to repent," He says pitifully: but pity is not weakness, - nay, it is the consciousness of strength that may make one slow. There is no possibility of escape. No height or depth can hide from Him the object of His search: - no greatness, no littleness. The day of reckoning comes at last, and not an item will be dropped from the account.
Then follows the wail of the kings of the earth for her, while they stand off in fear for the calamity that is come upon her, more sentimental than the selfish cry of the merchants, whose business with regard to her has slipped out of their hands. And then comes the detail of it, article by article, - all the luxuries of life, each of which has its price, and ending with "slaves, and souls of men." If one had skill to run through the catalogue here, he would doubtless find that each had its meaning; but we cannot attempt this now. The end of the traffic is at hand, and the Canaanite is to be cast out of the house of the Lord.
The lament of so many classes shows by how many links Rome has attached men to herself. Her vaunted unity is large enough to include the most various adaptations to the character of men. From the smoothest and most luxurious life to the hardest and most ascetic, she can provide for all grades, and leave room for large diversities of doctrine also. The suppleness of Jesuitism is only that of her trained athletes, and the elasticity of its ethics is only that of the subtlest ethereal distillation of her spirit. But though she may have allurements even for the people of God, she has yet no link with heaven; and while men are lamenting upon earth, heaven is bidden to rejoice above, because God is judging her with the judgment that saints and apostles and prophets have pronounced upon her.
Finally, and reminding us of the prophetic action as to her prototype, "a strong angel took up a great mill-stone, and cast it into the sea, saying, 'Thus with a mighty fall shall Babylon the great city be cast down, and shall be found no more at all.'" And then comes the extreme announcement of her desolation. Not merely shall her merchandise be no more, there shall be no sign of life at all, - no pleasant sound, no mechanic's craft, no menial work, no light of lamp, no voice of bridegroom or of bride; and then the reason of her doom is again given: "For thy merchants were the princes of the earth; for with thy sorcery were all nations deceived. 'And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that have been slain upon the earth."
Interpretation is hardly needed in all this. The detail of judgment seems intended rather to fix the attention and give us serious consideration of what God judges at last in this unsparing way. Surely it is needed now, when Christian men are being taken with the wiles of one who in a day of conflict and uncertainty can hold out to them a rest which is not Christ's rest; who in the midst of defection from the faith can be the champion of orthodoxy while shutting up the word of life from men; who can be all things to all men, not to save, but to destroy them: at such a time, how great a need is there for pondering her doom as the word of prophecy declares it, and the joy of heaven over the downfall of the sorceress at last. Heaven indeed is full of joy and gratulation and worship: "After these things, I heard as it were a great voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, 'Halleluiah ! salvation and honor and glory and power belong to our God; for true and righteous are his judgments; for He hath judged the great harlot which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and bath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.' And a second time they say, 'Halleluiah!' And her smoke goeth up forever and ever. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped God, saying, 'Amen: halleluiah!'"
We may now briefly discuss the question of how far there is indication here of a divine judgment, apart from what is inflicted by the wild beast and its horns. These, we have read, "shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and eat her flesh, and burn her up with fire." In the present chapter, we have again, "And she shall be burned up with fire; for strong is the Lord God who hath judged her." The kings of the earth "wail over her when they look upon the smoke of her burning, standing afar off for the fear of her torment." And so with the merchants and the mariners. And finally we read, "Her smoke goeth up forever and ever." Nothing in all this forces us to think of a special divine judgment outside of what is inflicted by human instruments, except the last. The last statement, I judge, does. It cannot but recall to our minds what is said of the worshippers of the beast and false prophet in the fourteenth chapter, where the same words are used; but this is not a judgment on earth at all: could indeed "her smoke goeth up forever and ever" be said of any earthly judgment? The words used are such as imply strict eternity: no earthly judgment can endure in this way; and the language does not permit the idea that the persistency is only that of the effects. No, it is eternity ratifying the judgment of time, as it surely will do; and it is only when we have taken our place, as it were, amid the throng in heaven, that this is seen.
But thus, then, we seem to have here no positive declaration of any judgment of Babylon on earth, save by the hands of the last head of western empire and his kings. Yet the eighteenth chapter, we have still to remember, says nothing of these kings: all is from God absolutely, and at least they are not considered. It has been also suggested that it is the "city" rather than the woman (the ecclesiastical system) that is before us in this chapter; but much cannot be insisted on as to this, seeing that the identification of the woman with the city is plainly stated in the last verse of the previous one, and also that the terms even here suppose their identity.
On the other side, there is in fact no absolute identity; nor is it difficult to think of the destruction of the religious system without its involving at all that of the city; nor, again, would one even suppose that the imperial head, with his subordinates, would utterly destroy the ancient seat of his own empire. Here a divine judgment, strictly and only that, taking up and enforcing the human one as of God, becomes at least a natural thought, and worthy of consideration.
Outside of the book of Revelation, Scripture is in full harmony with this. The millennial earth, as we may have occasion to see again, when we come to speak more of it, is certainly to have witnesses of this kind to the righteous judgment of God upon the objects of it. In it, as it were, heaven and hell are both to be represented before the eyes of men, that they may be fully warned of the wrath to come. During the present time, it is objected, there is not sufficient witness; in the millennium, therefore, there shall be no room left for doubt. Therefore while the cloud and fire rest as of old, but with wider stretch, as of sheltering wings, over Jerusalem (Isa. iv. 5, 6; comp. Matt. xxiii. 37), we have, on the other side, the open witness of the judgment upon transgressors which the Lord Himself renders as a type of the deeper judgment beyond. (Isa. lxvi. 23, 24, comp. Mark ix.)
Beside this, Edom remains desolate, and, to come near to what is before us, Babylon also. (Isa. xiii. 1o; xxxiv. 9, 2o.) How suitable that Rome., the seat of a power far worse and of far longer continuance should be so visited! Such a judgment would fill out the prophecy most fully and exactly. What a picture of eternal judgment is that of Idumea, in that "year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion "! "And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up forever." Rome is the great Edom as it is the great Babylon., and it would be really strange if there were not to be in her case a similar recompense. Barnes quotes from a traveler in Italy in 1850 what is only a striking confirmation of the story told by all who with eyes open have visited the country: "I behold everywhere, in Rome, near Rome, and through the whole region from Rome to Naples, the most astounding proofs, not merely of the possibility, but the probability, that the whcde region of central Italy will one day be destroyed by such a catastrophe. The soil of Rome is lava, with a volcanic subterranean action going on. At Naples., the boiling sulphur is to be seen bubbling near the surface of the earth. When I drew a stick along the ground, the sulphurous smoke followed the indentation.... The entire country and district is volcanic. It is saturated with beds of sulphur and the substrata of destruction. It seems as certainly prepared for the flames as the wood and coal on the hearth are prepared for the taper which shall kindle the fire to consume them. The divine hand alone seems to me to hold the fire in check by a miracle as great as that which protected the cities of the plain till the righteous Lot had made his escape to the mountains."
That Rome 's doom will be as thus indicated, we may well believe. And it is in awful suitability that she that has kindled so often the fire for God's saints should thus be herself a monumental fire of His vengeance in the day in which He visits for these things!
Part 7: The Marriage of the Lamb
PART VII (Chap. xix. 5 - xxii.)
THE MARRIAGE OF THE LAMB
(Chap. xix. 5 - 10.)
The harlot is now judged. The judgment of the whole earth is at hand. Before it comes, we are permitted a brief vision of heavenly things, and to see the heirs of the kingdom now ready to be established in their place with Him who is about to be revealed. A voice sounds from the throne: "Give praise to our God, all ye His servants, - ye that fear Him, small and great." It is not, of course, a simple exhortation to what in heaven can need no prompting, but a preparation of hearts for that which shall furnish fresh material for it. The response of the multitude shows what it is: "Hallelujah! for the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigneth." The power that was always His He is now going to put forth. Judgment is to return to righteousness. Man's day is at an end, with all the confusion that his will has wrought. The day of the Lord is come, to abase that which is high and exalt that which is low, and restore the foundations of truth and righteousness.
The false church that would have antedated the day of power, and reigned without her Lord, has been already dealt with; and now the way is clear to display, the true Bride. "The marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready." But the Church has been some time since caught up to meet the Lord: how is it that only now she is "ready"? In the application of the blood of Christ, and the reception of the best robe, fit for the Father's house assuredly, if any could be, she was then quite ready. Likeness to her Lord was completed when the glorified bodies of the saints were assumed, and they were caught up to meet Him in the air. The eyes from which nothing could be hid have already looked upon her, and pronounced her faultless: "Thou art all fair, My love: there is no spot in thee." What, then, can be wanting to hinder the marriage? A matter of divine government, not of divine acceptance ; and this is the book of divine government. Earth's story has to be rehearsed, the account given, the verdict rendered, as to all "deeds done in the body." Every question that could be raised must find its settlement: the light must penetrate through and through, and leave no part dark. We must enter eternity with lessons all learnt, and God fully glorified about the whole course of our history.
What follows explains fully this matter of readiness "And it was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints." We see by the language that it is grace that is manifest in this award. We learn by a verse in the last chapter how grace has manifested itself: "Blessed are they that have washed Iheir robes (R. V), that they might have right to the tree of life, and enter in through the gates into the city." But what could wash deeds already done? Plainly no reformation, no "water- washing by the Word." (Eph. v. 26.) The deed done cannot be undone; and no well-doing for the future can blot out the record of it. What, then, can wash such garments? Revelation itself, though speaking of another company, has already given us the knowledge of this: "They have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of Ihe Lamb." (Chap. vii. i4.) Thus the value of that precious blood is found with us to the end of time, and in how many ways of various blessing!
It is not, then, the best robe for the Father's house that robe never needs washing. It is for the kingdom, for the world, in the governmental ways of God with men, that this fine linen is granted to the saints. Yet they take their place in it at the marriage supper of the Lamb; for Christ's love it is that satisfies itself with the recognition and reward of all that has been done for love of Him. This is what finds reward; and thus the hireling principle is set aside. "And he saith unto me, 'Write, Blessed are they that are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'" Blessed indeed are they that are bidden now! Alas! they may despise the invitation. But how blessed are they who, when that day comes, are found among the bidden ones! I leave for the present the question of who exactly make up the company of those that form the Bride; but the Bride assuredly sits at the marriage supper, and the plural here is what one could alone expect in such an exclamation as this. There seems, therefore, no ground in such an expression for distinguishing separate companies as the Bride and the "friends of the Bridegroom." The latter expression is used by the Baptist in a very different application, as assuredly he had no thought of any bride save Israel.
"And he saith unto me, 'These are the true words of God.'" Of such blessedness, it would seem, even the heart of the apostle needed confirmation. Then, as if overcome by the rapture of the vision, "I fell down at his feet," says John, "to worship him. And he saith unto me, 'See thou do it not: I am a fellow-servant with thee and with thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God : for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.'"
All prophecy owns thus and honours Jesus as its subject. All that own Him, the highest only the most earnestly, refuse other honour than that of being servants together of His will and grace. How our hearts need to be enlarged to take in His supreme glory ! and how ready are we in some way, if not in this, to share the glory which is His alone with some creature merely! Rome's coarse forms of worship to saints and angels is only a grosser form of what we are often doing, and for which rebuke will in some way come; for God is jealous of any impairment of His rights, and we of necessity put ourselves in opposition to the whole course of nature as we derogate from these. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."
JUDGMENT OF THE LIVING AT THE APPEARING OF CHRIST
(Chap. xix. 11 - 21.)
The prophecy pauses not further now to dilate upon the blessing. There is needed work to be done before we can enter upon this; and the work is the "strange work" of judgment. The vision that follows is as simple as can be to understand, if there are no thoughts of our own previously in the mind to obscure and make it difficult. And this is the way in which constantly Scripture is obscured.
Revelation, as the closing book of the inspired Word, supposes indeed acquaintance with what has preceded it, and the links with other prophecy are here especially abundant. The kingdom of Christ is the final theme of the Old Testament, upon which all prophetic lines converge; and the judgment which introduces it is over and over again set before us. The appearing of the Lord, and His personal presence to execute this, are also so insisted on, that nothing but the infatuation of other hopes could prevail to hide it from men's eyes. In the New Testament, the same things face us continually. As we are not considering it for the first time here, it will be sufficient to examine what is in the passage before us, with whatever connection it may have with other scriptures, needful to bring out fully the meaning of it.
Heaven is seen opened, the prophet's stand-point being therefore now on earth, and a white horse appears, the familiar figure of war and victory. It is upon the Rider that our eyes are fixed. He is called "Faithful and True" - known manifestly to be that - and in righteousness He judges and wars: His warring is but itself a judgment. For this, His eyes penetrate as a flame of fire; nothing escapes them. Many diadems - the sign of absolute authority - are on His head. And worthily, for His name in its full reality - name expressing (as always in Scripture) nature - is an incommunicable one, beyond the knowledge of finite creatures. But His vesture is dipped in blood, for already many enemies have fallen before Him. And His name is called - has been and is, as the language implies, - " The Word of God." The gospel of John shows us that in creation already He was acting as that; and now in judgment He is no less so.
Is this revealed name any thing else than His incommunicable one? It would seem not. The thought would appear to be in direct refutation of the skeptical denial of the knowledge of the Infinite One as possible to man. We cannot know infinity, but we can know the One who is infinite, - yea, know Him to be infinite: know His name, and not know His name. The Infinite One, moreover, Christ is declared here to be, - no inferior God, but the Highest.
In the power of this, He now comes forth; the armies that are in heaven following their white-horsed Leader, themselves also upon white horses, sharers with Him in the conflict and the victory, clothed in fine linen, white and pure. It is this fine linen which we have just seen as granted to the Bride, and which needed the blood of the Lamb to make it white. It is therefore undoubtedly the same company here as there, only here seen in a new aspect, even as the Lord Himself is seen in a new one. It is communion with Himself that is implied in this change of character. What He is occupied with, they are occupied with; what is His mind is their mind: so, blessed be God, it will be entirely then. None then will be ignorant of His will; none indifferent or half-hearted as to it. Alas! now to how much of it are even the many willingly strangers! and it is this willing ignorance that is so invincible: for all else there is a perfect remedy in the Word of God; but what for a back turned upon that Word?
The Lord comes then, and all the saints with Him. How impossible to think of a providential coming merely here! "When Christ, who is our Life, shall appear," says the apostle, "then shall ye also appear with Him in glory" (Col. 11. 4.) "Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world?" he asks elsewhere. Judgment is now impending: "out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He may smite the nations." So Isaiah: "He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked." (Chap. Xi. 4.) It needs but a word from Him to cause their destruction; while it is judgment no less according to His Word: it is that long and oft threatened, slow to come, but at last coming in the full measure of the denunciation. Patience is not repentance.
"And He shall rule them with an iron rod"- - -"shepherd" them, to use a scarcely English expression. This is, of course, the fulfillment of the prophecy of the second psalm, and decides against the still retained "break them" of the Revised Version. It is the shepherd's rod - this rod of iron, used in behalf of the flock: as He says in Isaiah again, "The day of vengeance is in My heart, and the year of My redeemed is come; and I looked, and there was none to help, and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore Mine own arm brought salvation unto Me, and My fury, it upheld Me." (Chap. lxiii.) This is distinctly in answer to the question, "Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel, and Thy garments like him that treadeth in the wine-fat?" and to which He answers, "I have trodden the wine-press alone." Here also "He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God."
Would it be believed that commentators have referred this to the cross, and the Lord's own sufferings there? And yet it is so; though the iron rod, with which the treading of the wine-press is associated in this place, is something that is promised to the overcomer in Thyatira - " To him will I give power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, even as I received of My Father." We have but with an honest mind to put a few texts together after this manner, and all difficulty disappears.
"And He hath on His vesture and on His thigh a name written - "King of kings and Lord of lords." Now, in terrible contrast to the invitation lately given to the marriage supper of the Lamb, an angel standing in the sun bids the birds of the heaven to the "great supper of God," to feast upon earth's proudest and all their following. Immediately after which the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies are seen gathered together to make war against Him who sits upon the horse, and against His army. We are no doubt to interpret this according to the Lord's words to Saul of Tarsus, - "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" But we have seen the idol thrust into Jehovah's temple, and know well that Israel 's persecutors rage openly against Israel 's God. They are taken thus banded in rebellion, and judgment sweeps them down; the beast and the false prophet that wrought miracles before him (the antichristian second beast of the thirteenth chapter) being exempted from the common death, only to be Cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone, where at the end of the thousand years of the saints' reign with Christ we find them still.
The vision is so clear in meaning, that it really has no need of an interpreter; and we should remember this as to a vision, that it is not necessarily even symbolic, though symbols may have their place in it, as here with the white horses of that before us, while the horses whose flesh the birds eat are not at all so. The "beast and the kings of the earth" furnish us with the same juxtaposition of figure and fact, the figure not at all hindering the general literality of fact. In these prophecies of coming judgment, the mercy of God would not permit too thick a vail over the solemn truth. This is the end to which the world is hastening now, and God is proportionally taking off the vail from the eyes upon which it has been lying, that there may be a more urgent note of warning given as it draws nigh. "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear!"
THE RESTRAINT UPON SATAN
(Chap. xx. 1 - 3.)
The judgment upon living men is followed by that upon Satan their prince, though not yet is it final judgment. This partial dealing with the great deceiver means that the end of man's trial is not even yet reached. He is shut up in the abyss, or bottomless pit, of which we have read before, but not in hell (the lake of fire). As restraint, it is complete; and with the devil, the host of fallen angels following him share his sentence. This is not merely an inference, however legitimate. Isaiah has long before anticipated what is here (chap. xxiv. 21 - 23): "And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. And they shall be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days they shall be visited. Then the moon shall be confounded and the sun ashamed; for the Lord of Hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem., aud before His ancients gloriously."
Here the contemporaneous judgment of men and angels at the beginning of the millennium is clearly revealed, and just as clearly, that it is not yet final. The vision in Revelation is also clear. The descent of the angel with the key and chain certainly need not obscure the meaning. Nor could the shutting up of Satan mean any thing less than the stoppage of all temptation for the time indicated. The "dragon," too, is the symbol for the explanation of which we are (as in the twelfth chapter,) referred to Eden., "the ancient serpent," and then are told plainly, "who is the devil and Satan." It is simply inexcusable to make the interpretation of the symbol still symbolic, and to make the greater stand for the less - Satan the symbol of an earthly empire or any thing of the sort. What plainer words could be used which Isaiah's witness also abundantly confirms. God has been pleased to remove all vail from His words here, and it does look as if only willful perversity could misunderstand His speech.
That after all this he is to be let out to deceive the nations is no doubt at first sight hard to understand. It is all right to inquire reverently why it should be; and Scripture, if we have learnt Peter's way of putting it together, - no prophecy to be interpreted as apart from the general body of prophecy, - will give us satisfactory, if sotemn, answer. The fact is revealed, if we could give no reason for it. Who are we to judge God's ways? and and with which of us must He take counsel? It should be plain that for a thousand years Satan's temptations cease upon the earth; and then they are renewed and successful, the nations are once more deceived.
What makes it so difficult to understand is that many have a false idea of the millennial age, as if it were "righteousness dwelling" on the earth instead of "righteousness reigning" over it. It is said indeed of Israel., after they are brought to God nationally, "My people shall be all righteous" (Is. lx. 21); but that is not the general condition. The eighteenth psalm, speaking prophetically of that time, declares, "The strangers shall submit themselves unto Me," which in the margin is given as "lie," or "yield feigned obedience." They submit to superior power, not in heart; and so it is added, "The strangers shall fade away, and be afraid out of their close places." (Comp. lxvi. lxxxi. 15.) And Isaiah, speaking of the long length of years, says, "The child shall die a hundred years old," but adds, "and the sinner being a hundred years old shall be accursed." (lxv. 20.) So Zechariah pronounces the punishment of those who do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the glorious King (xiv. 17).
The millennium is not eternal blessedness; it is not the Sabbath, to which so many would compare it. It answers rather to the sixth day than the seventh, - to the day when the man and woman (types of Christ and the Church) are set over the other creatures. The seventh is the type of the rest of God, which is the only true rest of the people of God (Heb. iv. 9). The millennium is the last period of man's trial, and that is not rest: trial in circumstances the best that could be imagined, righteousness reigning, the course of the world changed, heaven open overhead, the earth filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, the history of past judgment to admonish for the future; the question will then be fully answered, whether sin is the mere fruit of ignorance, bad government, or any of the accidents of life to which it is so constantly imputed. Alas ! the issue, after a thousand years of blessing, when Satan is loosed out of his prison, will make all plain; the last lesson as to man will only then be fully learned.
THE RESURRECTION AND REIGN OF THE SAINTS
(Chap. xx. 4-6.)
And now we have what requires more knowledge of the Word to understand it rightly; and here, more distinctly than before, there are vision and the interpretation of the vision, so that we will be inexcusable if we confound them. The vision is of thrones, and people sitting on them, judgment (that is, rule) being put into their hands. "The souls of those beheaded for the witness of Jesus and the word of God" are another company separate from these, but now associated with them; and "those who have not worshiped the beast" seem to be still another. All these live and reign with Christ a thousand years, and the rest of the dead do not live till the thousand years are ended.
That is the vision. The interpretation follows: "This," we are told, "is the first resurrection;" and that "blessed and holy is he who hath part in the first resurrection: upon these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years."
We must look carefully at all this, and in its order. First, the thrones, aud those sitting on them: there should be no difficulty as to who these are, for we have already seen the elders crowned and seated in heaven, and before that have heard the Lord promise the overcomer in Laodicea that he should sit with Him upon His throne. That being now set up upon the earth, we find the saints throned with Him. In the interpretation, it is said they reign with Him a thousand years. The vision is thus far very simple.
Daniel has already spoken of these thrones: "I beheld," he says, "till the thrones were placed," (as the Revised Version rightly corrects the common one,) "and the Ancient of days did sit." (Chap. vii. 9.) But there was then no word as to the occupants of the thrones. It is the part of Revelation to fill in the picture on its heavenly side, and to show us who these are. They are not angels, who, though there may be "principalities" among them, are never said to reign with Christ. They are redeemed men, - the saints caught up at the descent of the Lord into the air (Thess. iv.), and who as the armies that were in heaven we have seen coming with the whIte-horsed King to the judgment of the earth.
This being so, it is evident that the "souls" next spoken of are a separate company from these, though joined to them as co-heirs of the kingdom. The folly that has been taught that they are "souls" simply, so that here we have a resurrection of souls, and not of bodies, - together with that which insists that it is a resurrection of truths or principles, or of a martyr-"spirit" - bursts like a bubble when we take into account the first company of living and throned saints. In the sense intended, Scripture never speaks of a resurrection of souls. "Soul" is here used for "person," as we use it still, and as Scripture often uses it; and the word "resurrection" is found, not in the vision, where its signification might be doubtful, but in the explanation, where we have no right to take it as other than literal. What is the use of explanation, except to explain. The recognition of the first company here also removes another difficulty, which troubled those with whom the "blessed hope" revived at the end of the last century, that the first resurrection consisted wholly of martyrs. The second company does indeed consist of these, and for an evident reason. They are those who, converted after the Church is removed to heaven, would have their place naturally in earthly blessing with Israel and the saved nations. Slain for the Lord's sake, during the tribulation following, they necessarily are deprived of this: only to find themselves in the mercy of God made to fill a higher place, and to be added, by divine power raising them from the dead, to the heavenly saints. How sweet and comforting this assurance as to the sufferers in a time of unequalled sorrow!
When we look further at this last company, we find, as already intimated, that it also consists of two parts: first, of those martyred in the time of the seals, and spoken of under the fifth seal; and secondly, the objects of the beast's wrath, as in chap. xiii. 7, i2. This particularisation is a perfect proof of who are embraced in this vision, and that we must look to those first seen as sitting on the thrones for the whole multitude of the saints of the present and the past. To all of which it is added that "the rest of the dead lived not again till the thousand years were finished," when we find in fact the resurrection of judgment taking place (vv. ii - 15). All ought to be simple, then. The "first resurrection" is a literal resurrection of all the dead in Christ from the foundation of the world, a certain group which might seem not to belong to IT, it being specialized, as alone needing this. The first resurrection is "first" simply in contrast with that of the wicked, having different stages indeed, but only one character: "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection! upon such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years."
To suppose that this passage stands alone and unsupported in the New Testament is to be ignorant of much that is written. "Resurrection from the dead," as distinct from the general truth of "resurrection of the dead," is special New Testament truth. The Pharisees knew that there should be "a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust." (Acts xxiv. 15.) But when the Lord spake of the Son of Man rising from the dead, the disciples question among themselves what the rising from the dead could mean (Mark ix. 9, io.) Christ's own resurrection is the pattern of the believer's. The "order" of the resurrection is distinctly given us: "Christ the first-fruits; afterward, they that are Christ's at His coming" (i Cor. xv. 23): not a general, but a selective resurrection. Such was what the apostle would by any means gain: not, as in the common version, "the resurrection of," but "the resurrection from the dead." (Phil. iii. ii.)
In his epistle to the Thessalonians, the same apostle instructs us more distinctly as to it, speaking in the way of special revelation, by "the word of the Lord:" "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent" - or, as the Revised Version, "precede " - "them that are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (i Thess. iv. 15 - 17.) Thus before He appears shall His saints be with Him; and, of course, long before the resurrection of the lost. But the Lord Himself has given us, in His answer to the Sadducees, what most clearly unites with this vision in Revelation (Luke xx. 34 - 36). They had asked Him of one who had married seven brethren: "Whose wife shall she be in the resurrection ?" meaning, of course, to discredit it by the suggestion. "And Jesus said unto them, 'The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage; but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; neither can they die any more; for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.'"
Clearly this asserts the fact and gives the character of the special resurrection which the vision here describes. It is one which we must be "accounted worthy" to obtain, not one which nobody can miss: it is grace that acts in giving any one his place in it. Those who have part in it are by that fact proclaimed to be the "children of God," thus again showing that it cannot be a general one. They die no more: that is, (as here) they are not hurt of the second death. They are equal to the angels: above the fleshly conditions of this present life. Finally, it is the resurrection from the dead, not of the dead merely. All this is so plain that there should be no possibility of mistaking it, one would say; and yet it is no plainer than this scene in Revelation. How dangerous must be the spell of a false system, which can so blind the eyes of multitudes of truly godly and otherwise intelligent persons to the plain meaning of such scriptures as these! And how careful should we be to test every thing we receive by the Word, which alone is truth! Even the "wise" virgins slumbered with the rest. Which shows us also, however, that error is connected with a spiritual condition, even in saints themselves. May we be kept from alt that would thus cloud our perception of what, as truth, alone has power to bless and sanctify the soul!
THE LITTLE SEASON
(vv. 7 - 10.)
Of the millennial earth, not even the slightest sketch is given us here. The book of Revelation is the closing book of prophecy, with the rest of which we are supposed to be familiar; and it is the Christian book, which supplements it with the addition of what is heavenly. Thus the reign of the heavenly saints has just been shown us: for details as to the earth, we must go to the Old Testament.
In the millennium, the heavenly is displayed in connection with the earthly. The glory of God is manifested so that the earth is filled with the knowledge of it as the waters cover the sea. Righteousness rules, and evil is afraid to lift its head. The curse is taken from the ground, which responds with wondrous fruitfulness. Amid all this, the spiritual condition is by no means in correspondence with the outward blessing. Even the manifest connection of righteousness and prosperity cannot avail to make men love righteousness, nor the goodness of God, though evidenced on every side, to bring men to repentance. At the "four corners of the earth," retreating as far as possible from the central glory, there are still those who represent Israel 's old antagonists, and thus are called by their names "Gog and Magog." Nor are they remnants, but masses of population, brought together by sympathetic hatred of God and His people, - crowding alike out of light into the darkness: a last and terrible answer to the question, "Lord, what is man?"
The Gog, of the land of Magog., whose invasion of Israel is prophetically described in the book of Ezekiel (xxxviii., xxxix.), is the prototype of these last invaders. There need be no confusion, however, between them; for the invasion in Ezekiel is premillennial, not postmillennial as that in Revelation. It is then that Israel are just back in their land (xxxviii. i4),.and from that time God's name is known in Israel., and they pollute His holy name no more (xxxix. 7). The nations too learn to knowHim (xxxviii. i6, 23). There needs, therefore, no further inquiry to be sure that this is not after a thousand years of such knowledge.
But the Gog and Magog here follow in the track of men who have long before made God known in the judgment He executed, - follow them in awful, reckless disregard of the end before them. This is clearly due to the loosing once more of Satan. While he was restrained, the evil was there, but cowed and hidden. He gives it energy and daring. They go up now on the breadth of the earth - from which for the moment the divine shield seems to be removed, and compass the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city. The last is of course the earthly Jerusalem. The "camp of the saints" seems to be that of the heavenly saints, who are the Lord's host around it. The city is of course impregnable: the rebels are taken in the plain fact of hostility to God and His people; and judgment is swift and complete: "fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them." The wicked are extinct out of the earth.
The archrebel now receives final judgment. "And the devil, that deceived them, was cast into a lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are; and they shall be tormented day and night for the ages of ages."
These words deserve most solemn consideration. They are plain enough indeed; but what is there from which man will not seek to escape, when his will is adverse? The deniers of eternal punishment, both on the side of restitution and that of annihilation, are here confronted with a plain example of it. Two human beings, cast in alive into the lake of fire a thousand years before, are found there at the close of this long period still in existence! How evident that this fire is not, therefore, like material fire, but something widely different! All the arguments as to the action of fire in consuming what is exposed to it are here at once shown to be vain. That which can remain a thousand years in the lake of fire unconsumed may remain, so far as one can see, forever; and it is forever that they here are plainly said to be tormented.
But it is objected that there is, in fact, no verb here: the sentence reads simply, "where the beast and the false prophet," and that to fill up the gap properly we must put "were cast," which would say nothing about continuance. But what, then, about the concluding statement, "and they" - for it is a plural, -."and they shall be tormented day and night for the ages of ages"?
Finding this argument vain, or from the opposite interest of restitution, it is urged that "day and night" do not exist in eternity. But we are certainly brought here to eternity, and "for the ages of ages" means nothing else. It is the measure of the life of God Himself (iv. io). No passage that occurs, even to the smoke of Babylon ascending up, can be shown to have a less significance.
Growing desperate, some have ventured to say that we should translate "till the ages of ages." But the other passages stand against this with an iron front, and forbid it. We are, in this little season, right on the verge of eternity itself. The same expression is used as to the judgment of the great white throne itself, which is in eternity. It will not do to say of God that He lives to the ages of ages, and not through them. The truth is very plain, then, that the punishment here decreed to three transgressors is, in the strictest sense, eternal.
Whether the same thing is true of all the wicked dead, we now go on to see.
The Judgment of the Dead
The millennium is over: "And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things that were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hades delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every one according to their works. And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
This is the judgment of the dead alone, and must be kept perfectly distinct in our minds from the long previous judgment of the living. The judgment in Matt. xxv., for example, where the "sheep" are separated from the "goats," is a judgment of the living, - of the nations upon earth when the Lord comes. It is not, indeed, the warrior-judgment of those taken with arms in their hands, in open rebellion, which we have beheld in the premillennial vision. The nations are gathered before the Son of Man, who has just come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him; and that coming, as when elsewhere spoken of throughout the prophecy, is unquestionably premillennial. As mankind are divided into the three classes, "the Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God.," so the prophecy in relation to the Jew is to be found in chap. xxiv. 1 - 42; that in relation to the professing Church, to the thirtieth verse of the next chapter; and the rest of it gives us the sessional judgment of the Gentiles, so far as they have been reached by the everlasting gospel. The judgment is not of all the deeds done in the body: it is as to how they have treated the brethren of the Lord (v. 40) who have been among them, evidently as travellers, in rejection and peril. The Jewish point of view of the prophecy as a whole clearly points to Jewish messengers, who as such represent Israel 's King (comp. Matt. X. 40). There is not a word about resurrection of the dead, which the time of this judgment excludes the possibility of as to the wicked. It is one partial as to its range, limited as to that of which it takes account, and in every way distinct from such a general judgment as the large part of Christendom even yet looks for. Here in the vision before us there is simply the judgment of the dead; and although the word is not used, the account speaks plainly of resurrection. The sea gives up the dead which are in it, as well as by implication also, the dry land. Death, as well as hades, deliver up what they respectively hold; and as hades is unequivocally the receptacle of the soul (Acts ii. 27), so must "death," on the other hand, which the soul survives (Matt. X. 28), stand here in connection with that over which it has supreme control - the body.
The dead, then, here rise; and we have that from which the "blessed and holy" of the first resurrection are delivered - the "resurrection of judgment." (Jno. V. 29,.R. V.) From personal judgment the Lord expressly assures us that the believer is exempt (v. 24, R. V.) Here, not only are the works judged, which will be true of the believer also, and for lasting blessing to him, but men are judged according to their works - a very different thing. Such a judgment would allow of no hope for the most upright and godly among mere men.
And this would seem to show that though a millennium has passed since the first resurrection, yet no righteous dead can stand among this throng. The suggestion of the "book of life" has seemed to many to imply that there are such; but it is not said that there are, and the words, "whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire," may be simply a solemn declaration (now affirmed by the result) that grace is man's only possible escape from the judgment. May it not even be intended to apply more widely than to the dead here, and take in the living saints of the millennium negatively, as showing how in fact they are not found before this judgment-seat?
At any rate, the principle of judgment -"according to their works"- seems to exclude absolutely any of those saved by grace. And there are intimations also, in the Old Testament prophecies, as to the extension of life in the millennium, which seem well to consist with the complete arrest of death for the righteous during the whole period. If "as the days of a tree shall be the days of" God's "people" (Is. lxv. 22), and he who dies at a hundred years dies as a child yet, and for wickedness: because there shall be no more any one (apart from this) that shall not fill his days (v. 20), it would almost seem to follow that there is no death. And to this the announcement as to the "sheep" in the judgment-scene in Matthew - that "the righteous shall go away into life eternal," strikingly corresponds. For to go into life eternal is not to possess life in the way that at present we may; in fact, as "righteous," they already did this: it means apparently nothing less than the complete cancelling of the claim of death in their case.
And now death and hades are cast into the lake of fire, - that is, those who dwelt in them are cast there. These exist as it were but in those who fill them; and thus we learn that there is no exemption or escape from the last final doom for any who come into this judgment. The lake of fire is the second death. The first terminated in judgment man's career on earth; the second closes the intermediate state in adjudged alienation from the Source of life. The first is but the type of the second. As we have seen, it is not extinction at all; and indeed a resurrection merely for the sake of suffering before another extinction would seem self-contradictory. In fact, death - what we ordinarily call that - is now destroyed. "It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment," which is thenceforth, therefore, undying (Heb. ix. 27).
With the great white throne set up, the earth and the heavens pass away, and there come into being a "new heaven and a new earth in which dwelleth righteousness." (2 Pet. iii. 13.)
The Earth's Final State
(Chap. xxi. 1 - 8.)
Before the face of Him who sits upon the great white throne "the earth and the heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them." (Chap. xx. ii.) We have now a complementary statement: "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth." It is clear, therefore, that an earthly condition abides for eternity. It is a point of interest as to which Scripture seems to give full satisfaction, whether this new earth is itself a "new creation," or the old earth remodelled and made new. At first sight, one would no doubt decide for the former; and this was the view that at one time almost held possession of the field, the new earth scarcely being regarded by the mass as "earth" at all. Practically, the earth was simply believed to exist no more, and in contrast with it all was to be heavenly: the double sphere of blessing, earth and heaven, was lost sight of, if not denied.
Lately, for many, reaction has set in, and the pendulum has swung past the point of rest to the other extreme. The prophecies of the Old Testament rightly understood as to be literally taken, and delivered from the glosses of a falsely called "spiritual" interpretation, seemed to agree with the apostle Peter and the book of Revelation in making the earth to be the inheritance of the saints, - the earth in a heavenly condition, brought back out of its state of exile, and into true relation with the rest of the family of heaven, not alienated from their original place. Contrast between earth and heaven as an eternal existence was again, but from the other side of it, denied.
The whole web and woof of Scripture is against either of these confusions: the point of rest can only be in accepting the distinction of earthly from heavenly as fundamental to all right understanding of the prophetic word. The Old Testament "promises," which have in view the earth as a sphere of blessing, are, as the apostle declares (Rom. ix. i - 5), Jewish, not Christian. The New Testament emphasizes that the blessings of the Christian are in "heavenly places." (Eph. i. 3.) Nor can this last possibly apply to earth made heavenly. The Lord has left us with the assurance (Jno. xiv.) that in His Father's house are many mansions, - permanent places of abode, - that He was going to prepare a place there for us, and that He will come again to receive us to Himself, that where He is, there we may be also. As well assure us that the Lord's permanent abode is to be on earth and not in heaven, as that our own is to be here, not there.
Each line of truth must have its place if we are to be "rightly dividing the word of truth." The heavenly "bride of the Lamb" is not the earthly; "Jerusalem which is above" is not the Palestinean city; the "church of firstborn ones, who are written in heaven" are not that "Israel," declared God's "firstborn" as to the earth; the promise of the Morning Star is not the same as that of the "Sun of Righteousness," although Christ assuredly is both of these. Discernment of such differences is of necessity for all true filling of our place, and practical rendering of Christian life.
Let us look now, however, at the question of continuity between the earth that flees away and the earth that succeeds it. At first sight we should surely say, they cannot be identicaL The well known passage in the epistle of Peter would seem to confirm this (2 Pet. iii. 10, 12). There we learn that "the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burned up." And it is repeated and thus emphasized by repetition that "the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat."
Yet, as we look more closely, we shall find reason to doubt whether more is meant than the destruction of the earth as the place of human habitation. In the deluge, to which it is compared., "the world that then was perished;" yet its continuity with the present no one doubts. Fire, though the instrument of a more penetrating judgment, yet does not annihilate the material upon which it fastens. The melting even of elements implies rather the reverse, and dissolution is not (in this sense) destruction.
Yet the heavens and the earth pass away, - that is, in the form in which now we know them; or, as the apostle speaks to the Corinthians, "the fashion of this world passes away" (i Cor. vii. 21): and that this is the sense in which we are to understand it, other scriptures come to assure us.
A "new" earth does not necessarily mean another earth, except as. a "new" man means another man -"new" in the sense of renewed. And even the words here, "there was no more sea," naturally suggest another state of the earth that now exists. This fact is a significant one: that which is the type of instability and barrenness, and condemns to it so large a Portion of the globe, is gone utterly and forever. At the beginning of Genesis we find the whole earth buried under it; emerging on the third day, and the waters given their bounds, which but once afterward they pass. Now they are gone forever, as are the wicked, to whom Isaiah compares it: "The wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt." This last is the effect of chafing against its bounds, as the "mind of the flesh" is "not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Rom. Viii. 7.)
These analogies cannot fail to illustrate another which the Lord Himself gives us, when He speaks of the millennial kingdom as the "regeneration," - "Ye who have followed Me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matt. XIL 28.) Here, let us note that it is the Lord's kingdom that is the regeneration of the earth. That reign of righteousness which is the effectual curb upon human wickedness, not the removal of it, answers thus to what "regeneration" is for him who is in this sense in the Lord's kingdom now. Sin is not removed; the flesh abides even in the regenerate; but it has its bound - it does not reign, has not dominion. In the perfect state, whether for the individual or the earth, righteousness dwells, as Peter says of the latter: sin exists no more. How striking does the analogy here become when we remember that the change, perhaps dissolution, of the body comes between the regenerate and the perfect state, just as the similar "dissolution "of the earth does between the millennium and the new earth! Surely this throws a bright light upon the point we are examining.
The new heavens are of course only the earth-heavens, the work of the second of the six days. They are of great importance to the earth which they surround, and to which they minister. More and more is science coming to recognize how (in natural law at least) the heavens rule. Yet who but an inspired writer, of the time of Peter or John, would have made so much of the new heavens? And these only, as Peter reminds us, develop a much earlier "promise." This we find in Isa. lxv. and lxvi., a repeated announcement, the second time explicitly connected with the continuance of Israel 's "seed" and "name:" "For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall abide before Me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain." Thus even in the new earth there will be no merging of Israel in the general mass of the nations. The firstborn people written on earth will show still how "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance," as will the "church of the firstborn who are written in heaven." These different circles of blessing, like the principalities and powers in heavenly places, are quite accordant with what we see everywhere of God's manifold ways and ranks in creation. Why should eternity efface these differences, which of course do not touch the unity of the family of God, while they are abiding witnesses of divine mercy in relation to a past, of which the lessons are never to be lost?
Earth, then, itself remains, but a "new" earth; and as the seal upon its eternal blessedness, "I saw," says the prophet and evangelist, "the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the throne, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall tabernacle with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, their God.'" Here is the promise in Immanuel's name made finally good to the redeemed race: and he who is privileged to show us the glory of the Only begotten of the Father tabernacling among men when the Word was made flesh, is the one who shows us the full consummation. Of the new Jerusalem we have presently a detailed account; here, what is emphasized is, that it is the link between God and men; God Himself is with men, in all the fullness of blessing implied in that.
We must not, however, pass over any thing: the less even that is said, the more should we ponder that which is said. Let us see, then, what is here, putting it in connection with what seems most naturally to throw light upon it elsewhere. Standing where we are - at the end of time, we stand indeed whither the whole stream of time has been conducting us; and therefore with the countless voices of the past sounding prophetically to us. What will it be to be actually there, at the end of the ways which, though through the valley of Baca., lead up to the city of God !
First, here, we are shown that He has prepared for us a city - " the holy city." The new Jerusalem is surely, what its earthly type is, a "city of habitation:" it is not simply a figure for the saints themselves. The patriarchs of old, content to await in patient faith the end of their pilgrim journey, "looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God;" and He will not disappoint their expectations, - " He hath prepared for them a city." (Heb. Xl. 10, i6.) At the very beginning of the world's history we find, in one who manifested a totally opposite spirit, still the desire of the human heart which this promise meets. Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, fugitive and vagabond as he was, to build a city. Without faith or patience, he only shows the natural craving of the heart, but not in itself evil because natural. Ever since, the history of man has connected itself mainly with its cities. From Babel on to Rome., these have been the centres of power and progress ever, and (the world being what it is) they have exhibited in the most developed way its opposition to God. But God too has His city, and makes much of it, "beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth," and with it associates (Ps. lxxxvii.) the One great name which eclipses that of all others.
The tendency of the day is toward cities, and in these, for good or for ill, we find the greatest development of man; only, man being fallen, the development is monstrous. When the day of the Lord has put down however, all human thoughts, it is only to exalt Jerusalem upon the earth, and to make way for the display of that better Jerusalem that is here before us. The city is the expression of human need, and the provision for it. In the midst of strife and insecurity, men gather together for protection; but that is only a small part of what is implied in it. There are other needs more universal than this, as that of cooperation, the division of labor, the result of that inequality of aptitudes by which God has made us mutually dependent. Our social nature is thus met, and there are formed and strengthened the ties by which the world is bound together; while the intercourse of mind with mind, of heart with heart, stimulates and develops every latent faculty. "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." (Prov. xxvii. 17.)
The eternal city implies for us association fellowship, intercourse, the fullness of what was intimated in the primal saying, "It is not good for man to be alone," but which in respect of the bride city, which this is, has still a deeper meaning. Here, the relationship of the saints to Christ, who as the Lamp of divine glory enlightens it, alone adequately explains all. "Alone" can we nevermore be. "With Him" our whole manhood shall find its complete answer, satisfaction, and rest.
This is necessarily, therefore, the "holy city." Cain's has but too much characterized every city hitherto. Where shall we find as in the city the reek of impurity and the hotbed of corruption? There poverty and riches pour out a common flood of iniquity, out of which comes ever increasing the defiant cry of despair. But here at last is a "HOLY CITY," the new Jerusalem, "foundation of peace;" not, like Babel of old, towering up to heaven, but coming down from heaven, the way of all good, of all blessing for men. The tabernacle of God is with men. God Himself tabernacles with them. His own hand removes every trace of former sorrow, every effect of sin. His own voice proclaims what his hand accomplishes: "Behold, I make all things new."
Here, that we may be fully assured, a confirmatory word is added. And along with this, and in view of it, in the name of Him who is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, the sweet invitation of the gospel is once more published, the free gift of the water of life to every thirsty soul is certified; and the inheritance to the overcomer, for it is reached by the way of conflict and of triumph, - grace securing, not evading, this: "He that overcometh shall inherit these things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son."
Just here too, with no less earnestness, and in eternity, past all the change of time, the doom of the wicked is pronounced: "But the fearful"- too cowardly to take part with Christ in a world opposed to Him, - " and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
THE HOLY CITY
The last vision of Revelation is now before us: it is that of the city of God itself. But here, where one would desire above all to see clearly, we become most conscious of how feeble and dull is our apprehension of eternal things. They are words of an apostle which remind us that "we see through a glass darkly " - en ainigmati, in a riddle. Such a riddle, then, it is no wonder if the vision presents to us: the dream that we have here a literal description, even to the measurements, of the saints' eternal home, is one too foolish to need much comment. All other visions throughout the book have been symbolic: how much more here how little need we expect that the glimpse which is here given us into the unseen would reveal to us the shape of buildings, or the material used! Scripture is reticent all through upon such subjects; and the impress to be left upon our souls is plainly spiritual, not of lines and hues, as for the natural senses. "Things which eye hath not seen" are not put before the eye.
On the other hand, that the "city" revealed to us here is not simply a figure of the saints themselves, as, from the term used for it, "the Bride, the Lamb's Wife," some have taken it to be, there are other scriptures which seem definitely to assure us. " Jerusalem., which is above, which is our mother" (Gal. iv.) could hardly be used in this way, though the Church is indeed so conceived of in patristic and mediceval thought. But even thus it would not be spoken of naturally as "above." In Heb. xii. we have a still more definite testimony. For there the "Church of the firstborn ones which are written in heaven," as well as "the spirits of just men made perfect " - in other words, both Christians and the saints of the Old Testament - are mentioned as distinct from "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem;" and this will not allow them to be the same thing, although, in another way, the identification of a city with its inhabitants is easy. We are led in the same direction by the mention of the "tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God," - something to which the apostle thought he might have been caught even bodily (2 Cor. xii.) - and here is the tree of life in the midst of the city beside the "river of the water of life" which flows from the throne of God. Figurative language all this surely; yet these passages combine to give us the thought of a heavenly abode, already existing, and which will be in due time revealed as the metropolis of the heavenly kingdom - what Jerusalem restored will be in the lower sphere. Indeed the earthly here so parallels and illustrates the heavenly as to be a most useful help in fixing, if not enlarging, our thoughts about it, - always while we realize, of course, the essential difference that Scripture itself makes clear to be between them. But this we shall have to look at as we proceed.
"The holy city, Jerusalem.," is certainly intended to be a plain comparison with the earthly city. But that is the type only; this is the antitype, the true "foundation of peace," as the word means. What more comforting title, after all the scenes of strife, the fruit of the lusts that war in our members, which we have had to look upon! Here is "peace" at last, and on a foundation that shall not be removed, but that stands fast forever. For this is emphatically "the city that hath foundations," and "whose builder and maker is God." (Heb. xi. io.) How blessed it is, too, that it should be just one of the seven angels that had the seven last plagues that shows John the city! for no mere executioner of judgment we see is he: judgment (as with God, for it is God's) is also his "strange work." It had to come, and it has come: there was no help, no hope without it; thus the stroke of the "rod of iron" was that of the shepherd's rod; it was the destruction of the destroyers only. But it is past, and here is the scene wherein his own heart rests, to which it returns with loyalty and devotion: here, where the water of life flows from the throne of God, - eternal, from the Eternal; refreshment, gladness, fruitfulness, and power are found in obedience.
But the city is the "Bride, the Lamb's wife." In the Old Testament, the figure of marriage is used in a similar way. Israel was thus Jehovah's "married wife" (Is. liv. x, Jer. xxxi. 33), now divorced indeed for her unfaithfulness, but yet to return (Hos. ii.), and be received and reinstated. Her Maker will be then once more her husband, and more than the old blessing be restored. In the forty-fifth psalm, Israel 's King, Messiah, is the Bridegroom; the Song of Solomon is the mystic song of His espousals. Jerusalem thus bears His name: "This is the name whereby she shall be called: 'Jehovah our Righteousness.'" (Jer. xxxiii. i6, comp. xxiii. 6.) The land too shall be "married." (Is. lxii. 4.)
In the New Testament, the same figure is still used in the same way. The Baptist speaks of his joy as the "friend of the Bridegroom," in hearing the Bridegroom's voice (Jno. iii. 29); and in the parable of the virgins (Malt xxv.), where Christians are those who go forth to meet the Bridegroom, they are by that very fact not regarded as the Bride, which is still Israel, (according to the general character of the prophecy,) though not actually brought into the scene. Some may be able to see also in the marriage at Cana of Galilee (Jno. ii. i) the vailing of the same thought. All this, therefore, is in that earthly sphere in which Israel's blessings lie; our own are "in heavenly places" (Eph. i. 3), and here it is we find, not the Bride of Messiah simply, but distinctively "the Bride of the Lamb." The "Lamb," as a title, always keeps before us His death, and that by violence, "a Lamb as it had been slain" (Rev. v. 6); and it is thus that He has title to that redemption empire in which we find Him throughout this book. But "the Bride of the Lamb" is thus one espoused to Him in His rejection, sharer (though it be but in slight measure) of His reproach and sorrow, trained and disciplined for glory in a place of humiliation. And so it is said that "if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him;" and again, "If so be we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together." (2 Tim. ii. r2; Rom. viii. ii.)
The saints in the millennium have no heritage of suffering such as this; even those who pass through the trial which ushers it in, have not the same character of it, although we must not forget those associated with the Lamb upon Mount Zion, who illustrate the same truth, but upon a lower platform. Even these are not His Bride.
Ephesians, the epistle of the heavenly places, shows us the Church as Eve of the last Adam, whom Christ loves, and for whom He gave Himself. Formed out of Himself and for Himself, He now sanctifies and cleanses her with water-washing by the Word, that He may present her to Himself a holy Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing. In another aspect, this Church is His body, formed by the baptism of the Spirit as at Pentecost, complete when those who are Christ's are caught up to meet Him in the air. The doctrine of this is, of course, not in Revelation: the difficulty is in seeing the conformity of Revelation with it.
Outside of Revelation even, there is a difficulty in the connection (if there be, as one would anticipate, a connection) between the Church as the body of Christ now, before our presentation to Him, and the "one flesh " which is the fruit of marriage. Israel was the married wife, and will be, though now for a time "desolate," as one divorced. The Church is "espoused" (2 Cor. XI. 2), not married. Thus the "one body" and the "great mystery" of "one flesh," of which the apostle speaks (Eph. V. 29) must be distinct.
Looking back to Adam, to whom as a type'he there refers us, we find that Eve is taken out of his side, - is thus really his "flesh" by her very making. Thus, as one with him in nature, she is united to him, - a union in which the prior unity finds its fit expression. The two things are therefore in this way very clearly and intimately connected. The being of Christ's body is that, then, which alone prepares and qualifies for the being of His bride hereafter; and body and bride must be strictly commensurate with each other.
The mystery here is great, as the apostle himself says; nor is it to be affirmed that the type in all its features answers to the reality. It is easily seen that this could not be; yet there is real correspondence and suitability thus far: according to it, the Church of Christ alone, from Pentecost to the rapture, is scripturally only (in a strict sense) the "Bride of the Lamb."
Yet can we confine the new Jerusalem to these? There would of course in this case be no difficulty as to the character of a city which it is given in this vision. A city is commonly enough identified with its inhabitants, so that the same term covers both place and persons. But are none to inhabit the new Jerusalem except the saints of Christian times? Are none of those so illustrious in the Old Testament to find their place there? Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are among those with whom the Lord assures us we are to sit down in the kingdom of God (Luke xiii. 28, 29); - are they to be outside the heavenly city?
This is positively answered otherwise, as it would seem, in Revelation itself. For while the general account of those who enter there is that they are those "written in the Lamb's book of life" (xxi. 27), "without" the city are said to be only "dogs, and sorcerers, and whore-mongers, and murderers, and idolators, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie" (xxii. 20).
In the eleventh of Hebrews, moreover, in a verse already quoted, "the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God," for which the patriarchs looked and waited, can surely be no other than that which we find here; and it is added that they desired "a better country, - that is, a heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city." It could not be the New Testament Church for which Abraham looked; for this was yet entirely hidden in God (Eph. iii 9) Another and larger meaning for the new Jerusalem must surely therefore be admitted.
And why should there not be in it the inclusion of both thoughts? Why should it not be the bride-city, named from the bride-church, whose home it is, and yet containing other occupants? This alone would seem to cover the whole of the facts which Scripture gives us as to it; and the Jewish bride is in like manner sometimes a wider, sometimes a narrower conception; sometimes the city Jerusalem, sometimes the people Israel. Only that in the Old Testament the city is the narrower, the people the wider view; while in the New Testament this is reversed. And even this may be significant: the heavenly city, the dwelling place of God, permitting none of the redeemed to be outside it, but opening its gates widely to all. A Bride City indeed, ever holding bridal festival, and having perpetual welcome for all that come: its freshness never fading, its joy never satiating; blessed are they whose names are written there!
As before, the city is seen "descending out of heaven from God." We shall find, however, here, that the present vision goes back of the new heavens and earth to the millennial age, - that is, that while itself eternal, the city is seen in connection with the earth at this time. Not yet has it been said, "The tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them." The descending city is not, therefore, in that settled and near intimacy with men outside of it in which it will be. A significant and perfect note of time it is that the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of nations (xxii. 2). Tender as this grace is, the condition it shows could not be eternal.
All the nearer does it bring this vision of glory and of love, no more to be banished or dimmed by human sin or sorrow. The city has the glory of God; and here is the goal of hope, complete fruition of that which but as hope outshines all that is known of brightness elsewhere. It cannot be painted with words. We cannot hope even to expand what the Holy Ghost has given us. But the blessedness itself we are soon to know.
The holy city descends from heaven, "having the glory of God." She is the chosen vessel of it, to display it to the universe, being the fruit of Christ's work, the fullest witness of abounding grace. Her shining is "like a most precious stone, as a crystal-like jasper-stone," or diamond, as we have already taken it to be. The carbon crystallized into this lustrous brilliant, which still shines with a light not its own, is a fit representation of the "glory" that is to be "in the Church in Christ Jesus unto all generations of the age of ages." (Eph. iii. 21.) This glory which God manifests through His Creatures, He manifests to His creatures, satisfying His own love in bringing them thus nigh unto Himself. How blessed to be a means of such display!
The wall of the city clearly speaks of its security: it has "a great and high wall;" for "salvation hath God appointed as walls and bulwarks." (Is. xxvi. i.) And in the wall, which has four sides, there are twelve gates, - three gates on every side, for egress and ingress, home as this is of a life which is unceasing activity. The number 12 is upon all the city, 12 being an expanded 7, with the same factors (4X 3 instead of 4 + 3), and the symbol of manifest divine government, God being here manifestly supreme. This is perfection in its deepest analysis; and the numbers are thus one in fact. The two here are plainly the usual 4 x 4, the 3 still speaking of divine manifestation, while the 4 shows it to be universal, the sides facing also every way.
At the gates are twelve angels; upon them the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. As the tabernacle of God, a reference to the tabernacle of old is surely in place here, though to that there was but one entrance, for a simple and beautiful reason, Christ being seen in it as the only way of approach to God. Now there are twelve gates, answering to the twelve tribes which in the wilderness also were grouped in similar threes around the tabernacle. Ezekiel, in his last vision of the future (chap. xlviii.), shows us what more exactly answers to what is here, though speaking of the earthly city restored, and not the heavenly; and there the gates are appropriated, one to each particular tribe. Israel are here, as it would seem, their own representatives, as in the vision of the seventh chapter; and we are reminded of their being in nearest connection upon earth with the heavenly city. In the heavenly sphere, at the gates are angels. The heavenly and earthly relations of the city are thus declared.
There are twelve foundations of the wall of the city also; but on these are the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. They have laid the foundations, and their names are stamped upon their work. We are surely not to imagine any individualizing here, as if any one foundation could be appropriated to any one apostle, or indeed that the number 12 itself is anything but characteristic. This connects itself also with the question of the presence or absence of Paul's name from the number. It is remarkable that almost the same difficulty connects with the twelve tribes of Israel, which often exclude and often include the tribe of Levi. Taking Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph, as tribal heads, equal in this respect to Jacob's other sons, (and this is the place that they are given in the history,) yet they are none the less always counted twelve. Why may not the apostles, in spite of the addition of Paul to their number, be counted here as twelve?
The measurements of the city and the wall are next given. The city is a cube, twelve thousand furlongs every way; the wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits high. The number 12 still governs everywhere. The cube speaks of substance, reality. The sanctuary in the tabernacle and in the temple were both cubes. This is the eternal sanctuary, and the full fruition of every hope of the saint. The measurements further, though surely symbolic, await yet their interpretation. The building of the wall is of jasper (or diamond). The divine glory is itself a safeguard of the eternal city. What can touch that which God has ordained for His own praise? The city itself is pure transparent gold, - pure, permanent, radiant, - not hindering, but welcoming the enraptured sight. The foundations of the wall are adorned with every precious stone, - all the attributes of God displayed in that upon which rests the salvation of the people of God. The stones, in their separate meanings, are again a mystery. The twelve gates are twelve pearls - the picture of such grace as has been shown in the Church (Matt. xiii. 45, 46). These gates stand open all the unending day. The street of the city is, again, "pure gold, like transparent glass." The street - especially in the east - is the place of traffic, the meetIngplace constantly of need and greed. But here, all circumstances, all intercourse, the whole environment, is absolute holiness and truth, fit for and permeated by the felt presence of God.
And this leads us directly to the next statement, that because the city is all sanctuary, there is no more any special one. The presence of God is the temple of the city: there is no other; and the Lamb is He who characterizes for us, and will always characterize, this otherwise ineffable Presence. There is no distance; there is nothing that can produce distance; there never can be more. It is that which the presence of Jesus among us - now nearly nineteen centuries since - implied and pledged to us: it is Immanu-El -"God with us"- in full reality, and in the highest and most intimate way.
It is true we have not the Father spoken of as such: it is "the Lord (or Jehovah) God Almighty" - the God of Old Testament revelation, - with "the Lamb," in whom we have the revelation of the New. Nothing less, surely, is meant than God in full display, so far as the creature can ever be made to apprehend Him. There is a glory of the Light always inaccessible, - not hid in darkness, but in light, which no human eye can ever penetrate. None can fully know God but God. This is only to say that the creature remains the creature; but the limitation of faculties does not mean distance, as if kept back. "The Lamb" shows, on the one hand, the desire of God to be known, while implying, in the very fact of manhood taken for this revelation, that God purely as God could not be known.
Thus it is immediately added that the glory of God lightens the city, and "the Lamb is the lamp thereof." The lamp sustains the light. It adds nothing to it, for to divine glory nothing can be added: if any thing could be, it would no longer be divine. But the light is "put upon a candlestick (or lamp) that they who enter in may see the light." (Luke viii. i6.) So Will Christ always be the One in whom the Father is made known: nay the sacrificial word (" Lamb") assures us that we shall always have need of the past also for this. But this does not at all mean that there will not be what the Lord has assured us the angels of the little children enjoy continually: "Their angels do always behold the face of My Father who is in heaven."
This, then, is the glory of the heavenly city, in the light of which the nations of the earth themselves walk; while the kings of the earth bring their glory unto it. As another has said, "They own the heavens and the heavenly kingdom to be the source of all, and bring there the homage of their power." And "they bring the glory and honour of the nations unto it." That is, "Heaven is seen as the source of all the glory and honour of this world." The nations are, as we shall see directly, undoubtedly the millennial nations; and it is no question of these entering themselves into the heavenly city: their glory and honour it is they bring, and though the words in the original admit the force of "into," they by no means compel it. The mention of the continually open gates speaks indeed of peaceful and constant intercourse, and we must remember that here is the abode of those who reign with Christ over the earth. Whether these are the "kings of the earth" meant is, however, a question: if it were so, the "into" might be still the true sense.
The next statement as to the city regards those who do enter therein, - that is, have part in the blessedness which is here depicted. In opposition to all defilement, one class alone has title here: it is "they who are written in the Lamb's book of life." This surely shows that the whole of the Old-Testament saints enter into the city. No one is excluded whose name is there. While, on the other hand, the millennial saints have as clearly their portion on earth - the new earth - in connection, indeed, with the "tabernacle of God," but not in it. The heavenly city remains always heavenly, and when it descends from heaven, has then received its inhabitants. These distinctions, which indeed are gathered from elsewhere, are nevertheless to be kept in remembrance here, or all will be confusion.
We have next before us the "paradise of God," in which the city lies. Man's paradise of old could not yet have the city; and when the city came, it was outside of paradise altogether. Here at last the two things are united.
We are of necessity reminded also of one of the closing visions of Ezekiel, while a comparison easily shows also the difference between the earthly and the heavenly in these pictures, - the one being indeed the shadow, but no more than the shadow, of the other. John here sees "a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." And in Ezekiel, the life-giving waters issue forth from the house of the Lord, and thus is specially noted in connection with the fruit of the trees that are nourished by it: "And by the river, upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to its months, because their waters, they issued out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine." How like the account in Revelation is to this, no one can fail to understand: even the language might seem to be taken from it: "In the midst of the street of it, and on this side of the river and on that, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve [manner of] fruits, and yielded its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
But in Ezekiel all is distinctly earthly, and the blessing is not yet full. The waters go down into the salt sea and heal it, so that a great multitude of fish are in its waters; but there are miry places and marshes that are not healed, but given over to salt. With both the Old Testament prophet and the New, we see that the earth is yet in the millennial, not the eternal condition; for the leaves of the tree are for medicine in both alike; there is, in both, need of healing yet.
The waters are in both cases from the sanctuary, for that is the character of the whole city of God. In Revelation, they are specifically from tne throne of God; for here the one blessedness is, as we have seen, that God reigns, - God revealed in that perfect grace that is expressed in Christ, - the throne of God being also that of the Lamb. Thus the water is the type, as always in its highest meaning, of the fullness of the Spirit, the power of life and sanctification, indeed the power of God in all creation. The tree of life bears witness, as in the earthly paradise at first, of dependence upon Another, of life in dependence; but all the plenteous and varied fruits of this could not even be symbolized in the time of old; fresh fruits and abundant: who can tell the blessed meaning? or what Christ is to those that have their life in Him?
"And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him. And they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads." Thus He is openly theirs; they too are openly His. Service is taken up afresh in glory according to the fullness of that open-eyed and open-faced communion which is here so assured. It is indeed, when it has its proper character, communion itself. The love that serves us all is the love of God Himself, and of this Christ is the perfect expression. How is it possible to be in communion with Christ without the diligent endeavour to serve Him in the gospel of His grace, and in ministry to His people? In heaven, service will not for a moment cease; although some precious possibilities of the present will have passed away indeed. Would that this were more realized, with the Lord's estimate of greatness in the kingdom of which He is greatest of all!
But the light! and our inheritance is in the light. To this the vision returns, and ends with it: "And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, nor light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light, and they shall reign for the ages of the ages" Thus the reign of the saints is not for the millennium only, nor simply as partakers of the power of the rod of iron. "If by one man's offence death reigned through one, much more shall they who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life by One, Jesus Christ." (Rom. v. 17.) Reigning is, for the heavenly saints, inseparable from the life they enter into in the coming day. The new Jerusalem is a city of kings and priests, - the bridal city of the King of kings. Here the eternal reign seems associated necessarily with the glory in which all here live and move. For those who were once sinners, - slaves of Satan, and of the lusts by which he inthralled them, to be delivered and brought, by the priceless blood of Jesus, into such communion as is here shown with the Father and the Son, - how can their condition be expressed in language less glowing than this - needing no candle, nor light of the sun, because the Lord God giveth them light, - than that they reign forever and ever?
(Chap. xxii. 6 - 21.)
The series of visions is thus completed. What remains is the emphasizing of its authority for the soul, with all that belongs to Him whose revelation it is, and who is Himself coming speedily. Thus the angel now affirms that "these words are faithful and true:" necessarily so, because of Him whose words they are. "The Lord God of the spirits of the prophets hath sent His angel to show unto His servants things which must soon come to pass." Here we return to the announcement of the first chapter. The book is, above all, a practical book. It is not for theorists or dreamers, but for servants, - words which are to be kept, and to have application to their service in the Church and in the world.
The things themselves were soon to come to pass. In fact, the history of the Church, as the opening epistles depict it, could be found imaged, as we see, in the condition of existing assemblies. The seeds of the future already existed, and were silently growing up, even with the growth (externally) of Christianity itself. As to the visions following the epistles also, from the sixth chapter on, we have acknowledged the partial truth of what is known as the historical fulfillment of these. It is admitted that there has been an anticipative fulfillment in Christian times of that which has definite application to the time of the end, although it is the last only that has been, in general, dwelt upon in these pages.
Historicalists will not be satisfied with such an admission, and refusing on their side (as they mostly do) the general bearing of the introductory epistles upon the history of the Church at large, insist upon such affirmations as the present as entirely conclusive that the historical interpretation is the only true one. In fact, the view which has been here followed brings nearest to those in the apostles' days the things announced, as well as makes the whole book far more fruitful and important for the guidance of servants. For how many generations must they have waited before the seals and trumpets would speak to these? And when they did, how much of guidance would they furnish for practical walk? The application of Babylon the great to Romanism is fully accepted, and that of Jezebel in the same way insisted on, so that as to the errors of popery, we are as protestant as any, if in the "beasts" of the thirteenth chapter we find something beyond this. But nothing of this could have been intelligible to the saints of the early centuries, while the fulfillment of Ephesus., Smyrna., and even Pergamos would soon be of the first importance.
"The Lord God of the spirits of the prophets" - the reading now generally admitted to be right emphasizes for us the presence of the living God as what was for these the constant realization, in all the shifting scenes of human history. And so it is for those whose spirit is in harmony with them. God in past history, God in the events happening under our eyes, His judgment therefore of every thing, while controlling every thing, for His own glory and for the blessing of His people, - in this respect how blessed to be guided by those wondrous revelations! While the future, to be learnt from the same infallible teaching, is not only that which animates our hopes, but is necessary for the judgment of the present, no less. All lines lead on to the full end, there where the full light gives the manifestation of all. "And behold, I come quickly." This is for the heart: future as long as we are down here; and yet to govern the present. "Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book."
Here we are warned of the mistakes that may be made by the holiest of men in the most fervent occupation with heavenly things. John falls at the angel's feet to worship him; but the angel refuses it, claiming no higher title than to be a fellow servant with John himself, with his brethren the prophets, and with those also who keep the words of this book. And he adds, "Worship God:" - worship, that is, no creature.
Unlike Daniel's prophecies, the words of the prophecy of this book are not to be sealed up, for the time is near. To the Christian, brought face to face with the coming of the Lord, the end is always near. What time might actually elapse was another question. In fact, some eighteen centuries have elapsed since this was written: but while Daniel was taught to look on through a vista of many generations to the end before him, Christians, taught to be always in an attitude of expectation, have before them no such necessary interval, and are brought into the full light now, though unbelief and wrong teaching may obscure it. But nothing in this way is under a vail, save the moment whose concealment is meant to encourage expectation. How good for us, and fruitful such concealment, may be measured by the goodness and fruitfulness of the expectation itself.
The solemn words are just ready to be uttered which proclaim the close of the day of grace to those who have refused grace. It is just ready to be said, "Let him that doeth unrighteously do unrighteously still; and let the filthy make himself filthy still; and let him that is righteous do righteousness still ; and he that is holy, let him be sanctified still." And when this applies is shown clearly in the next words, "Behold, I come quickly, and My reward with Me, to render to every one as his work shall be: I, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last." The last affirmation here shows the irrevocable character of this judgment. He sums up in Himself all wisdom, all power: "none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?"
The way of life and the way of death are now put in contrast: "Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city." Here is the condition of blessing stated according to the character of Revelation, in terms that have been used before. Our robes must be washed in the blood of the Lamb, as those of the redeemed multitude in the vision under the seals, in order to be arrayed in the white garments that are granted to the Lamb's wife. A very old corruption in this text is that exhibited in the common version, "Blessed are they that do His commandments;" but which is the true reading ought to be apparent at once. It is not by keeping commandments that any one can acquire a right to the tree of life. On the other hand, condemnation is for committed evil: "without are dogs, and sorcerers, and fornicators, and murderers, and idolaters, and every one that loveth and maketh a lie."
Again it is repeated, "I, Jesus, have sent Mine anger to testify these things unto you in the assemblies;" and then He declares Himself in the two relations among men in which the book has spoken of Him: "I am the Root and the Offspring of David " - the Jewish relation, the divine incarnate King of Israel, - " the bright and Morning Star," - the object of expectation for the Christian. But immediately He is named - or rather names Himself in this way, the heart of the Bride, moved by the Spirit, awakes: "And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come!'" But because it is yet the day of grace, and the Bride is still open to receive accessions it is added, "And let him that heareth say, Come!'" And if one answer, "Ah, but my heart is yet unsatisfied," it is further said, "And let him that is athirst come; he that will, let him take the water of life freely."
Blessed is this testimony. The precious gifts of God are not restricted in proportion to their preciousness, but the reverse. In nature, sunlight, fresh air, the water-brooks, things the most necessary, are on that account bestowed freely upon all. And in the spiritual realm there is no barrier to reception of the best gifts, save that which the soul makes for itself. Not only so, but men are urged to come - to take - to look - with no uncertainty of result for those who do so. The stream that makes glad the city of God is poured out for the satisfaction of all who thirst, and will but stoop to drink of it. This is the closing testimony of the gospel in this book, and that with which it is associated adds amazingly to its solemnity. There is now another warning, neither to add to, nor to take from the words of the prophecy of this book. Scripture has many similar admonitions, but here the penalty is an unutterably solemn one. To him that adds, God shall add the plagues that are written in this book. From him who takes away, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city. Yet men are now not scrupulous at least to take away many of the words of Scripture, and of Revelation among the rest. Every word is claimed here by the Lord Himself for God; and if this is not a claim for verbal inspiration, what is it? As manifestly the closing book of New Testament scripture, what may we not infer as to the verbal inspiration of other parts? And what shall be the woe of those who dare presumptuously to meddle with that which is the authoritative communication of the mind of God to man? Is it not being done? and by those who own that somewhere at least - and they cannot pretend to know exactly the limit, - Scripture contains the Word of God?
This announcement of penalty is Christ's own word: "He who testifieth these things saith, Surely, I come quickly.' "Is it not when His Word is being thus dealt with that we may more than ever expect Himself? When the testimony of Scripture is being invalidated and denied, is it not then that we may most expect the Faithful and True Witness to testify in person? Especially when this arises in most unusual places, and Church teachers laboriously work out a theology of unbelief?
And the promise abides as the hope of the Church, although it be true that the Bridegroom has tarried, and the virgins have slept ! That - true or false - a cry has been raised, "Behold, the Bridegroom cotneth!" is notorious. That many have stirred and taken up the old attitude of expectancy is also true. All these things should surely be significant also. But whatever one's head may say, - whatever the doctrine we have received and hold as to the coming of our Lord and Master, - the heart of the truly faithful must surely say with the apostle here, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
It is the only response that answers to the assuranc of His love on His departure to the Father: "In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, would have told you; I go to prepare a place for you.And if I go, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, ye may be also." The Lord's coming - the parousia - is just the "presence" of the Lord Himself. Nothing short of this could satisfy the hearts of those who looked up after Him, as He ascended with His hands spread in blessing over them; and were reassured by the angels' voices, that this same Jesus would come again. Just in proportion as we too have learnt by the Spirit the power of the love of Jesus, we too shall be satisfied with this, and with this alone. May we learn more deeply what is this cry of the Spirit and the Bride: "Amen, come, Lord Jesus."