We are now brought to the last book of all, the close of the divine volume of inspiration. There could be nothing beyond the Revelation, the unfolding, the heading up of all God's ways and counsels, the bringing out into full light that which has been kept secret from the foundation of the world; the character of God now manifestly displayed before the eyes of all. It is most striking to see the scope of this book, its reach. We are already in the grasp of eternity itself; already looking at things from God's point of view, — ourselves as it were, outside of time, and place, standing upon the mount with God looking over all creation, and seeing it in its wickedness, folly and rebellion, but all brought under the mighty hand of Him who is to reign till He has put all His enemies beneath His feet, and God Himself shall be all in all.
I feel a hesitation in taking up such a book as that. I do not feel equal to such a task, — to set before us its wondrous fulness. And yet are we not encouraged at the very opening, to take it up in simple dependence upon Him who has told us that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness"? The third verse, in the first chapter, affords an encouragement which suggests at the same time the danger there is of neglecting this book. I might say there is no portion of Scripture, probably, that has been more neglected, more disbelieved than this very book of Revelation; and as a result that which is unfolded in it is strange and new to many. Thank God He has been opening it for us, and we can understand something of this blessing: "Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things that are written therein, for the time is at hand."
"Blessed is he that readeth." One might say, I cannot understand these wondrous symbols that abound throughout the book, things which have been hid even from the wise and prudent. Ah! notice it says not, blessed are they that understand, but "blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy." That is something more than the mere hearing of audible words. Hearing in Scripture is always connected with the heart: "Hear and your soul shall live." It is the opening of the heart to the truth; and the blessing is pronounced to those who read and open their hearts to the Word; and the result is that they will keep the things that are written therein. And then that solemn thought, the time is at hand. No one can truly understand the book of Revelation, who does not realize something of the preciousness on the one hand and the solemnity on the other, of those simple words, "the time is at hand."
These things which are open to us are things which are soon to come to pass, things which, if the patience of God lingers long, are even now at this time nearer than ever before — at the door. Everything has been accomplished, the whole course of the Church's history as outlined for us in these first chapters, has all been accomplished, and we stand at the very close of that period. We are standing at the very close, having only to wait and to listen to that word, a blessed encouraging word, "the time is at hand."
There is also another encouragement to take up the book, which also indicates the spirit in which we are to study it, which is to me very precious. The apostle sets before us, as you know, in this introductory chapter, something as to the Lord's coming; but before he says anything as to that, he brings in a precious foundation truth. "Unto Him that loveth us, and has washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also that pierced Him: and all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen." Now that gives us the spirit in which we are to take up and examine the contents of this book. We are redeemed, we have to do with One who is seated upon the throne of glory, taking the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne, exercising all the judgment that has been given to Him of the Father, until finally He comes forth with the armies of heaven to execute the final judgment upon the earth. In whatever character He is presented to us, it is still the One who loveth us; it is the One who has bought us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood; it is as redeemed that He has made known these things to us.
With what confidence then can we take up the book. As we see the awful visions- of judgment, following one another in quick succession in the panorama which God causes to pass before us, we can give thanks for Him who loveth us, and has washed us from our sins in His own precious blood. Ah! brethren, we stand above it all, we stand as it were on high, and look over it all with Christ, and share with Him the glory as we behold the judgments.
On the other hand, the opposite of that — "Behold He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him." For us, we know Him as the One who loves us, who has washed us from our sins, and has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father. But for the world, we know Him as the One who cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and the very ones who pierced Him: and all the tribes of the land shall wail because of Him. Still we can add our word, "Even so, Amen." We are dealing with the One who is going to judge it all, but who is our Redeemer as well.
Now what is the effect of that? Just what you find to be the effect of all God's precious truth: His grace gives us confidence, and a sense of nearness both in standing and relationship. His judgments solemnize us, lead us to see what sin is, give us that fear of God which always accompanies the true knowledge of grace, and make us realize as well that we are in a world subject to judgment.
So much for the spirit in which we should take up the book, and the encouragement to do so. We thus find in it that which shall bless our souls, and bring us more closely than ever into communion with our blessed God, who has given us this revelation. He tells us it is a revelation, not something concealed, but something unfolded for us to understand. That brings us to the contents of the book and their scope. The most casual reader who is familiar at all with Scripture finds that it easily divides into two parts. The first three chapters have to do with the Church, as the responsible vessel of testimony upon earth in this Christian dispensation. The rest of the book, from the fourth to the twenty-second chapter, deals no less clearly with what is not the Church, but with the earth at large, until we reach the final stage where you have the Church in the glory again displayed.
As to the first part, you are familiar with its general character, and I do not need more than to point out some of the characteristic features of it. We have, first of all, the introductory chapter which sets before us the Lord in His priestly character, as the One who stands in the midst of the candlesticks to judge them. The candle-sticks are the seven churches, we are told, with the stars in the place of lights, and those we are told are the angels of the seven churches. The candlestick is the vessel of testimony, that which bears the light.
The Lord is not seen here as the Saviour, nor as the Head of the Church, His body. He appears with His eyes as a flame of fire, searching secret things, testing everything by His holiness, and pronouncing His judgment upon each testimony that He has left in the world. That is the attitude in which He is presented.
As for the Church we see her as the golden candlestick, the gold speaking of the divine glory with which she is endowed in point of privilege, and then the star, which is the angel of the Church, representing that light which has come from heaven and been entrusted to the Church, responsibility for testimony in a dark world like this. There are seven candlesticks, and these give us seven local churches in Asia, as they are enumerated, — Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, — all of them churches that existed in the apostle John's day, and with a character which our Lord judges here. Yet we have unquestionably in view something more than that. We have, in this sevenfold church-history, the unfolding of the whole church period during which it exists upon earth, beginning as it does with Ephesus and ending with Laodicea.
We have, symbolically, he Church from the apostles' day down to the coming( of the Lord. When we take them up, the characteristics develop in a very clear and orderly way. First, we have four churches together, ending with Thyatira, where for the first time you have the coming of the Lord spoken of as the hope that is before His people. Then you have the other three together — Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. In the four churches we have very strikingly grouped together the earth side of the Church, ending up vividly with Thyatira, which speaks of that great world-system of Rome, developed in Babylon, later on in the book. First in these again, we have Ephesus and Smyrna joined together by the fact that they have both much good in them, and Pergamos and Thyatira joined together from the fact that there is much evil in them. That very division of these four churches into two and two, is suggestive of the evil that is found in church-history. How solemn it is that when God is going to unfold to us the history of His Church He gives us the key-thought, that is a development of evil. What do I mean by that? Not surely that the true Church is evil, nor that there is not much good in every one of these four churches. But alas, principles of evil are at work, just as you have in the seven parables of the Kingdom, in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, which lead on to the final end that you have brought out in Laodicea. Let us look at them for a moment.
What is it that characterized Ephesus? Much labor and patience; intolerance of evil men and doctrine; much faithful work, — but "I have against thee that thou hast left thy first love." It is departure from the first love; and, dear brethren, whether in an individual or a church, that is the signal of final departure from the Lord. What is it that marks declension in our souls? It is not falling into some outbreaking sin first of all. The first thing is forgetting, departing from first love; and so with the Church. We have, later on, the dark period through which it passed, we see the wretched condition into which it is brought, but the root of it all we find in Ephesus. Oh! the love of thine espousals, of which the Lord speaks, the time when Israel was holiness to the Lord. God reminds her of her first love. He reminds her in the sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel, of the time which was a time of love, when God met Israel, and when He allured and drew her to Himself. So with the Church. There was a time of love, at Pentecost in the early history of the apostolic church; Christ was everything, self was nothing; their very goods were worthless, except as given to Him. Christ was all. Alas, the history of the Church begins with the departure from that first love.
Then in Smyrna we see God's faithfulness coming in in a strange way perhaps. He allowed the enemy to be turned loose upon the Church to use all his power to destroy it. Persecution comes in with Smyrna, and accordingly you find no word of reproof. You do find very suggestively even in Smyrna, judaizing; those who say they are Jews and are not. And that is the actual history of the Church after the time of the apostles. Persecution on the one hand keeping it outwardly pure, preventing it from falling into corruption, driving it back, very likely to much of her first love, but on the other hand, alas, this tendency to bring in the law and ordinances, which comes to its full growth in Thyatira, the church of Rome. These are the first churches — departure from first love, and God's merciful recovery through persecution.
Then we have the next two, Pergamos and Thyatira. Pergamos gives us the root out of which Thyatira grows. "Thou hast thy dwelling where Satan's throne is." Settling down in the world, forming union with the world as though belonging to it. That was the next step in the history of the Church. After the terrible persecutions during the first centuries, Satan tried, as he often does, to corrupt by means of attracting to the world. When the persecution ceased, there was a wonderful advancement apparently, a wonderful spread of Christianity. Constantine is called the first Christian emperor. You find Church and State united together under him, an apparently wonderful victory for Christianity. But the Church has ceased to be the pure virgin espoused to Christ. Here she is linked with the world, and what is the outcome of that? Thyatira, that system where the woman Jezebel has sway, that awful harlot who corrupts instead of helps the world, whose presence is a leavening power. It is the system where the woman, the professing church, usurps Christ's place and becomes the teacher, calling herself a prophetess, but which the Spirit of God designates by the name of Jezebel. She is found in all her power here; and that is the end, as it were, of the Church's history so far as the earth is concerned. You find Thyatira going on to the end. The Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos features have all been merged into the Thyatira character. And here, as I said before, you have for the first time the coming of the Lord as the only hope for His people.
That leaves the other three churches as giving us other characteristics. Sardis is the reformed Church, as it is called; and it is very remarkable how it is described: "Thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead." Solemn word for those who have been delivered out of the corruptions of Rome, with its bondage and superstition, and brought into the place of light, yet only with a name to live — a profession. It is that which marks Protestantism, a profession of life. I do not speak of the remnant of the Lord's people here or in Thyatira, but of the general character of these churches. A name to live is what Protestantism has; more particularly the national churches which rose out of the Reformation. In them union between Church and State is still maintained, such as you find in Germany, England, Scotland, and a poor wretched mockery even in France itself.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, gives us that which God does. God in His mercy surely brought out precious truth for salvation and life at the time of the Reformation, the truth of justification by faith above all; but in Philadelphia you have something else. Its very name is suggestive. It means brotherly love; but if you notice, the brotherly love is not described further, save as you find it shown in obedience and loyalty to Christ Himself. True love of the brethren is shown by devotedness, subjection to Christ. "Thou hast kept My word, thou hast not denied My Name."
I believe the history of Philadelphia began long before it took actual expression in an absolutely scriptural testimony. I believe it began in the desire amongst those godly persons, who separated from the ecclesiastical systems to which we have just alluded under the name of Sardis those, for instance, who would not be linked with the world, who did not believe in the union of Church and State. These I believe were the beginnings of Philadelphia's testimony. Many a separation has taken place on the part of godly men these, perhaps, two hundred years, when the corporate testimony of little companies of Christians was set up. A testimony, I say, that was unworldly on the one hand, and marked as well by the union of saints in godly fellowship, with a discipline and order somewhat at least according to the word of God. I believe that the origin of the Baptist sects, of the Methodists, and other Christian denominations, and later the establishment of the Free church of Scotland, was a work of the Spirit of God, in which earnest souls were feeling after that which would answer to the heart and mind of Christ, as to holiness and a path according to His word.
Far be it from me, of course, to endorse everything they did, or to say that they had full light. But at any rate there was a work of the Spirit of God amongst them. Alas, alas, look about us today, and what do we see among those very ones, who in the beginning had come out and acted for God in this way? They are built up into great systems of the world, so established that they have no longer that pilgrim character, which should ever mark the true Church of Christ in testimony. They resemble again Sardis just as Sardis resembles Thyatira. The tendency of all is back, back again to the corruption that they left.
To go further with that: I believe that, just as we have the promise of the Lord's coming presented in Philadelphia, so we have the comforting assurance that there will be a testimony for the Lord maintained till the end, a testimony which is marked by two things: first of all in holding fast to Christ's word, and secondly, not denying His name. Christ's word is the word of God, and what marks any true testimony for Him is to give a perfect place to the word of God from the beginning to the end, in our lives and in our testimony. Christ's name suggests His authority, and the all-sufficiency of His blessed person. It suggests that He Himself is the commanding centre, the object that draws and holds His people together. Christ's word, Christ's name, — that is love of the brethren. If I love my brethren I will hold fast to Christ's word and not deny His name, but oh! if I put love to the brethren first, I will forget what is due to Christ and to His honor. That is the secret of all declension from the true Philadelphian spirit.
Let me say a word further as to that for our consciences. While I do not hesitate to say that we, by God's grace, are seeking to maintain a Philadelphian character, we ought on the other hand, to be most carefully on our guard against any assumption that we are a wonderful people. Dear brethren, when I think how God has opened to us His word as never before, I have no hesitation in saying that never since the days of the apostles, not even in the time of Martin Luther in the Reformation, has the word of God been opened up as in these last years — when I think of this, I say, What a responsibility! Are we going to boast that we have an open Bible and that we understand it, that we have a certain testimony that we are to maintain?
If we boast, I find that boasting is characteristic not of Philadelphia, but of Laodicea. It is Laodicea that says, "I am rich, increased with goods, and have need of nothing." Ah! Laodicea boasted in her self-sufficiency. Pity can only say, "Thou knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable, poor and blind and naked." Let us beware of pride, and self-sufficiency. What marks a remnant testimony is ever a spirit of mourning and of confession. A spirit of true contrition, a broken heart is the one to which the Lord looks. A broken and a contrite heart is the place where He has His habitation, and only there. Thus we have at the close of the Church's history these two contrasted conditions. Sardis gives us Protestantism as a system, but Philadelphia and Laodicea give us two states in connection with a scriptural testimony. Philadelphia has a little strength — there is much weakness, — but there is a lowly and firm endeavor to hold fast to the Lord and His name. Laodicea on the contrary is marked by self-satisfaction and boasting. Am I far wrong when I say that the Laodicean in his full development seems to be one who has the light of Philadelphia without the conscience of Philadelphia? the light of true Philadelphia, but using it for himself, to boast in that which should only exalt Christ?
And so the history of the Church closes. I am sure we find ourselves right at the end. There is nothing more to be developed in the history of the Church. So we can see how near, how very near the coming of the Lord must be. That shows us the first division of the book.
You find at the beginning of the fourth chapter, a distinct change in language, subject and position. The apostle sees a door opened in heaven. He had seen the Lord before that, gazing at His Church here upon earth; he is now caught up and sees in glory that very Church, which he had seen in testimony upon the earth. For you find in these twenty-four elders the whole family of God's people, not excluding the saints of the other dispensations, making a complete priestly family. Four and twenty elders giving us in that way the entire priesthood, with crowns on their heads, suggestive of the royalty that is theirs as well, and answering beautifully to the twofold place of blessing, which the apostle has already referred to when he says, Christ has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father.
This part of the book is divided into seven very clearly marked portions, which we will notice first, before taking it up a little as to the details. We have first of all the throne of God and the Lamb, and the seven seals, as the first division from the fourth to the seventh chapters. Next from the eighth chapter, and first verse, to the eleventh chapter, and eighteenth verse, — these are the judgments of the seven trumpets. Then beginning with the nineteenth or last verse of the eleventh chapter, and going through the thirteenth we have Satan, the Beast and the Antichrist. For a fourth division you have the fourteenth chapter, where are seen the 144,000 on Mount Zion on the one hand, and the judgment of the harlot and of the world on the other. Then in the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters, you have the seven vials, the seven last plagues, — the fifth division; while the sixth is the judgment of Babylon, given us in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and first few verses of the nineteenth chapters. The seventh and last division gives us the final consummation of it all, from the nineteenth chapter and seventh verse to the end, where you have the marriage supper of the Lamb, the judgment of the nations, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment of Satan, the judgment upon the nations after the millennium, and the final glory.
First we have the throne of God. There is one thing that is particularly noticeable beside the glory, and that is the rainbow about the throne. We are being introduced here to the terrible judgments that are going to be poured out upon the earth. The throne of almighty God is set up to execute those judgments. But first we see the throne of glory surrounded by the rainbow. This is that pledge of God's unchanging covenant with the earth, that rainbow of promise which He put in the cloud to show that He would never again destroy the earth. You remember, He set His bow in the cloud, and said that when He brought a cloud upon the earth He would put His bow in the cloud as well, that they might know that the cloud would not bring destruction. Ah! what a black cloud is lowering over the earth in these awful descriptions! We follow here one judgment after another sweeping over the earth. How precious to be assured that it is still the object of God's unchanging counsels, that it will not perish, and that these judgments are but the dark cloud which brings the fertilizing rain.
The next thing that strikes us in this first part (of course we cannot pretend to look at it verse by verse) is the presence of the living creatures. These four, you remember, we saw as typifying the various characters of judgment in which our Lord stands, the various characters which He bore as well. Here we have these four living creatures typical of divine providential power, which is to execute judgment over the earth.
We now look in the right hand of Him who sits upon the throne, and see a book in which the account of all these judgments is contained, that book which is written within and without, but sealed with seven seals. Until that book is opened and its secrets made known, and all the judgments therein executed, there can be no blessing on the earth. When the challenge is issued for some one to open that book, it remains unanswered. Heaven contains none worthy to do it, earth surely not, — none are worthy anywhere to look at it. John weeps at this but is assured that there is One, a lion, whose mighty power is able to inflict every judgment in that book, One indeed worthy to execute them all — the lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed, He has earned it as a right to open the seals, and to look upon this book.
John looks, and he sees with the eye of faith, blessed be God, just what I was speaking of at the beginning. He sees a Lamb as it had been slain. As I was saying, we are dealing with judgment, but the judgment is committed unto Him who loveth us, and has washed us from our sins in His own blood. He comes and takes the book out of the hand of Him that sits upon the throne, and all heaven and all earth break forth in hallelujahs unto Him that sits upon the throne, and the Lamb. When the Lord, the Lamb of God, and the lion of God, takes His great power and reigns, there will be praise and blessing and worship as there never was before, and in these wondrous scenes in the fifth of Revelation, we have in anticipation the end of all judgment. "Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb forever and ever."
He takes the book and opens the seals one after the other. What a revelation it is, beginning with the sixth chapter. At the opening of the first four seals each of the living creatures calls, "Come." It seems to suggest that as Christ was rejected, He now sends the appropriate judgment. The first seal gives us the white horse, the cloud, and the bow, which signifies universal conquest on the part of some mighty hero in the last days. They would not have the Lamb, the true King, and they get one who suggests the beast, of the thirteenth chapter. The second is another, a red horse, signifying the carnage and bloodshed. As they would not have the peaceful ox, Christ as in Mark, now peace is taken from the earth. In the third, you have famine, the man on the black horse holding the balances. They refused the Man who would have fed them from the Father's house of plenty, as in Luke. Finally, in the fourth seal, you have that awful death and hades on the livid horse. They refused the eternal life, as in John, and now life is taken from those who dwell upon the earth.
In these four seals you have preliminary judgments, first of all conquest, then carnage, then famine, then death, that is the introduction to the judgments that are to take place in the world. With the fifth you have the souls of the saints under the altar persecution is evidently the thought. How beautiful that is! When it is judgment upon the earth, you see the judgment executed when it is persecution of the saints, you see their spirits in heaven. In the sixth seal we have what seems to be the break up of everything. Everything seems to have gone to pieces. I judge that these symbols speak mainly of the confusion, desolation, and anarchy that will exist in the political and religious world when these things take place — a confusion that will lead men to think that the great day of the Lord has come. After that, in the seventh chapter, you have, not the seventh seal, as you might expect, but first of all another kind of seal. A seal is put on the foreheads of the Lord's earthly people, Israel. The redeemed among the nations are seen too, but not the Church, which does not go through the Great Tribulation. As we saw in the ninth chapter of Ezekiel that the man with the ink-horn put the mark of God upon all that sighed and cried for all the abominations committed there, so here. Now I believe that this interval taking the place of the seventh seal is, as it were, God's merciful outlook, letting us look forward to the end of everything. And what do we see there? A spared remnant delivered through the great judgments which are to be unfolded in the seven trumpets. These are they who have passed — not through great tribulation merely, but — through the Great Tribulation, who have been brought safe on yonder side. It is a vision of those who shall enter into millennial blessing with the Lord.
Now that brings us to the second portion. The seventh seal which, as you notice, is not described at all, seems to be connected with all that follows. It seems, as it were, to break the last clasp that held the book together, so that now it is unrolled and in these seven trumpets and what follows you have more particularly the actual judgments that are written in the book itself. How solemn the thought that the seals, terrible as they are, are simply preliminary judgments.
As to the trumpets, taking them altogether, you have them developed in a way similar to the seals. You have six trumpets and then an interval and in that interval you have the little book and the two witnesses testifying. The seven seals seem to give us the introductory judgments which are inflicted largely by human agencies. These judgments of the trumpets are through providential agencies, more particularly resembling those in the land of Egypt, the blood, the hail, the death, that comes in upon all. They doubtless symbolize spiritual death as well. There is another thing to notice they are visited more particularly upon the third part of the earth. That seems to be the western, or Roman Empire.
When you come, however, to the fifth and sixth trumpets, which are gone into more particularly, we find ourselves in the East. The bottomless pit is opened and locusts come out of the smoke. This seems to mark the advent of Antichrist. The hordes from the east doubtless signify what is known in Scripture as the Assyrian, the overflowing scourge.
Then we have the interval in the tenth and eleventh chapters. It is another beautiful glimpse into God's thoughts. Here you see One who comes down with a little book in His hand, which seems to be in contrast with the large book, the roll that was in God's hand. John has to take and eat it. That little book seems to speak of the definite earthly judgments which have been prophesied largely in the Old Testament itself. In connection with that little book you have the testimony of the two witnesses.
These two witnesses resemble Moses and Elijah. They are able to call down fire from heaven, turn water into blood. Moses did the one, Elijah did the other. But they seem to be typical of the remnant, the power of remnant testimony during the time of these fearful judgments and persecutions. I would suggest that their testimony is what God honors by sending the judgments of the trumpets. In the midst of the fearful tribulation you have these men of God bearing testimony. In their persecution, death, and resurrection, you have a glimpse beyond to the time when God will raise them up, just as we saw in the sealing of the 144,000. Then the seventh angel sounds, and there is the completion of everything, the conclusion of divine judgments and a song of praise.
That in one sense will give us the end of God's judgments upon the earth, but will still leave undeveloped the full picture of evil. He is going to present us not merely the judgments but the cause, the moral cause of them, and that we have given to us in the next portion which, loosely speaking, is the twelfth and thirteenth chapters.
The twelfth chapter is taken up with the persecution of Israel by the dragon. You have the birth of the Man Child from Israel, from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came. You have the Man Child born who shall rule the nations with a rod of iron. Then you have at His birth the dragon seeking to devour Him Satan seeking the destruction of Christ even at His birth. You remember how Herod persecuted the Lord, and how Joseph was instructed to carry Him down to Egypt till the death of Herod. Afterward the woman is persecuted, the Man Child having been caught up to God and to His throne. The woman flees into the wilderness where she has a place prepared of God, where they should feed her 1260 days and there was war in heaven.
Now, here we have first of all in the Man Child caught up to God and His throne, the whole Christian dispensation. It is Christ and the Church as one, and so the Church caught up with the Lord. We know that the Lord rose and then He was caught up to heaven. The Church has not been caught up yet. The testimony of grace is still going out, saints are being gathered, but in that one brief verse the space of time is unnoticed the Church and Christ are glorified together. This is made manifest by the fact that Israel comes at once to the front.
The woman has a place provided where she flees and is protected, which reminds us of what our Lord said the remnant should do in the days of persecution. "Let them that are in Judea flee to the mountains." There they are protected from the special malice of Satan. She flees into the wilderness, and when the dragon would destroy her, when he threw out the water after her, the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the water. That gives us the providential protection of the remnant of Israel under the assaults of Satan.
Then we have clearly told what the dragon is, that old serpent, the devil and Satan. There was war in heaven. Up to this time, Satan has been in heavenly places, and will continue there till Michael casts him down to the earth. What a shout of hallelujah rises in heaven when the accuser of the brethren is cast out, when the heavens are purged not only by blood, as they were when our blessed Lord entered by His own blood — the pledge that God's throne of righteousness was fully maintained, — but now purged actually of the very presence of Satan! He is cast out at last, to be bound in that bottomless pit, where he belongs. But first he must tarry a short time upon earth, and he has great wrath, because he knows he has but a short time.
That short time is doubtless the three years and a half, which you constantly find in Daniel and Revelation; the 1260 days, forty-two months, time and times and half a time, or three years and a half, are all the same period, the last half, doubtless, of the last week of Daniel's prophecy, when everything will be headed up, and evil at its highest pitch will seek to destroy every testimony for God upon earth. How good it is to know that there will be a remnant even in those days!
Next you have the beast and the false prophet; both given to us in the thirteenth chapter. I can only say that the beast represents the satanic head of the revived Roman empire. In this third section you have a satanic character to everything. You have the dragon, Satan himself, the Beast energized by Satan, and the false prophet, or Antichrist, who is the administrator of all the power of the Beast. Everything is satanic. You have a sort of trinity there. First of all Satan, the head of all; then the Beast claiming to be divine, and his image set up to be worshiped; and lastly, the Antichrist, that most loathsome and horrible figure of all prophetic history, because he is usurping the place of the most beautiful, blessed, precious Lamb of God. Here he dares to assume the form of a lamb, yet he speaks like a dragon, and all he does smells of the bottomless pit and the lake of fire, where he gets his retribution. That is all that we can say about these personalities, in connection with the persecutions and judgments that take place described under the seven trumpets, and how incomplete the book would be without a description of them.
Now that brings us to the fourteenth chapter, which gives us among others two prominent thoughts. We have first of all the Lamb with the 144,000 on Mount Zion and their song, the song of the redeemed, which they have learned, as it were, from heaven itself, but which they sing here on earth. There is some question as to who these 144,000 are. Some have suggested that they may represent the remnant of Judah, just as the other 144,000 represent the remnant of Israel; but it seems to me that the remnant of Judah would hardly be spoken of as the 144,000. In those very numbers themselves we have a suggestion that these are the same remnant which were sealed in the seventh chapter, the complement of the entire nation. There you saw them sealed and here you see them with the Lamb. Every one that is sealed will have his place with the Lamb. Then you have the everlasting gospel, that is, the gospel which appeals to man as God's creature, just telling him two things: first, that God's judgments are coming, and that they should fear the One who is the Creator of all. Then the warning against receiving the mark of the beast, and the announcement of Babylon's fall. In the latter part of the chapter you have One coming on the white cloud, like the Son of Man. He first gathers in the harvest, then the vintage. In those two symbolic acts we have first a judgment of both the righteous and the wicked, the ingathering of the nations, just as you have in the twenty-fifth of Matthew. In the vintage you have the unmingled wrath of God such as you see in the sixty-third chapter of Isaiah, where the Lord comes from Edom with dyed garments from Bozrah, because He has trodden the winepress of the wrath of God alone.
That brings us to the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters, where we have the vials which we are told fill up all the wrath of God. They seem to give us the characteristics of the plagues, and belong evidently to the time of the trumpets, probably the latter part. You seem to have that which is quite similar to and connected with the judgments of the trumpets. What a fearful outpouring there is when God's angels pour out these vials, these last plagues upon the earth! They suggest the drink-offering. Joy in God refused brings woe indeed.
We have next the judgment of Babylon described here in no measured terms. It is described in its true character, and is placed in connection with the beast, the imperial power on which it sits upon the seven hilled city. She sits like a queen boasting in her dominion and power till the nations of the earth cast her off, God Himself fulfilling these terrific judgments which are described here in the mourning and lamentations of those who have had traffic with her. As a great millstone she is cast into the sea and judged forever. What merited judgment of the great harlot that had defiled the kingdoms of the earth. Thyatira and Laodicea go to make up Babylon when she is judged. Man's city, man's church, man's corrupt harlot that professed to be the chaste virgin of Christ, meets her doom, and then the marriage supper of the Lamb takes place. The Bride has made herself ready and is adorned like a bride for her husband. She enters in with her Lord to that marriage feast which never ends, where the marriage festival will be celebrated throughout eternity, and the love of the espousals will never be lost as it was upon earth, — as it was in Ephesus. She is called the Bride, not the wife merely, for in that term you have the joy, the love, the tenderness connected with the very beginning of the union as what will go with it forever, — forever, and forever. She will always be the bride, — "the bride, the Lamb's wife."
You have the marriage before He comes forth as the Rider upon the white horse to meet the embattled hosts of Satan. The beast and the false prophet make their final great stand. They are taken, Satan is bound and shut up in the bottomless pit, the beast and the antichrist are cast alive into the lake of fire, and the invitation is given to the birds of the air to come to feast upon earth, upon those who refused to enter into the marriage supper of the Lamb. How solemn to think that these who form the supper for the harpies of earth are those who have rejected the marriage supper of the Lamb. They would be enemies to infinite love, and infinite love could do nothing else but judge eternally those who reject and despise it.
Then we have in the twentieth chapter the binding of Satan, which marks the thousand years or the Millennium that we so often speak of, and the throne on which the Lord's people are associated with Him in judgment. Here we find the first resurrection including all who have been raised up, showing that even the martyred saints in the last fearful persecution will have their part in this first resurrection. Blessed and holy are they who are partakers of that resurrection, of which Christ is the First-fruits. (1 Cor. 15:23.)
At the close of the Millennium Satan is let lose for a little while when he goes out and gathers again another host. What an awful comment upon the corrupt and hopeless condition of man's heart. After a thousand years of blessing, when Christ has reigned over the earth, that there should be nations willing to submit to the devil out of the pit to tell them that God is not good, that Christ's reign is not for blessing! The hosts of the nations come up to fight against God, to meet judgment from heaven. There is but one answer that God can give to that; fire from heaven destroys them, and the dragon, Satan, that one who has put lies into your heart and mine about Christ and about God, at last gets his final doom; he is cast into the lake of fire "prepared for the devil and his angels."
Then you get the doom of those for whom it was not prepared, but who chose rather the lake of fire than the heavenly city; who refused grace, and who are judged not merely out of the books in which the record of their lives is written, but are judged because their names were not found in the Lamb's book of life. This gives us the twofold character of judgment — for man's sin on the one hand, and for his rejection of Christ on the other.
And then, when all is cleared off, when the last wretched one meets the doom which he has insisted on having, our eyes are opened upon that fair city, like a bride adorned for her husband, that comes down into close intimacy with earth. We see the new heaven and the new earth, with no more sea that speaks of separation and death, of storm and unrest and of wickedness. We see the heavenly city and God's tabernacle with men. We see the new earth with its inhabitants, doubtless with Israel as the chief nation, and the other nations linked with her in happy, eternal blessing upon earth. We see the heavenly city, the dwelling place of the Lamb and of the Church, with all the heavenly redeemed, the Old Testament saints — all there forever in happy, close fellowship.
Who would venture to speak of that? who could describe that which, I say it reverently, the blessed God Himself has seen fit to vail in symbols that partly reveal and partly hide the glories behind them? It all shines with the glory of God, the glory of God's light. There is nothing but that which is precious and enduring in connection with it all. There is no need of the sun, of nature's light there. During all the Millennium, above the day's splendor, shines ever the witness of what the Church is in God's thoughts. Here you have what Cain essayed to build in his own power, but only made a place of departure from God — man trying to make himself comfortable in a place where God had pronounced the curse. There, where there is no more curse, and where the throne of God and the Lamb are, and where His servants shall serve Him, His name shall be in their foreheads. There you have, without a curse, God's city in contrast with man's. He is not ashamed to be called our God, and has prepared a habitation for us.
We began by speaking of the praise, "unto Him that loveth us and washed us from our sins," and we close our book with our eyes upon the City which is His home and ours. We pass through the seas of judgment and the storms of wrath. They are all over now, and there in everlasting rest and everlasting glory, we shall be with Him to His praise forever. That is what is before us, ah, how soon! And what grace, beloved, what infinite grace for our God to take us up — unworthy ones — who have washed our robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb — to take us up, and give us a place there, with Himself in that city:
"Jerusalem the golden with milk and honey blest,
Beneath thy contemplation sink heart and voice oppressed."
But what the poet knows not — what has not entered into man's heart to conceive — God has revealed to us by His Spirit in this one precious word, "The throne of God and the Lamb." Jesus is there and where He is, He has told us, His people shall be also. May we wait for it. If Abraham looked for a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God — may we, with more than Abraham's light, have some, at least, of Abraham's pilgrim heart, that we may wait and look for that city that hath foundations. May we be characteristically citizens of heaven and not be jealous of man's poor city, with all his boasting still a habitation of iniquity. Let us look up at that bright, holy, glorious city, — the bride of the Lamb, and say that all the hope that we have, is to have our place there with Him who is ever the glory of heaven itself.
We close our Bibles, — we have gotten to the end of our subject in our poor little way, — with our eyes upon the dear home which our God has given us with Jesus. Thus the end of our Bible brings us to the heavenly city where Jesus is all in all,