(Part 1 is found in the file apoca1.doc, part 3 in apoca3.doc.)
The Visions of John in Patmos:
being Notes on the Apocalypse.
A DISTINCT section of this book commences with this chapter. When John was in the Spirit on the Lord's-day, he was commanded "to write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter," or more accurately, "the things which shall be after these." (Rev. 1:19.) The first chapter contains the things he saw, the second and third chapters comprise "the things which are;" i.e., the whole church period, and in chapter 4 we enter upon the things "after these"; i.e., after the church period on earth. This interpretation is borne out by the language employed in the first verse of our chapter: "Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter"; literally, "after these," the very words found in Rev. 1:19. To miss this divine division of the book is to lose the key to its understanding.
Two prefatory remarks must be made to enable the reader to commence intelligently the study of this part of the inspired Word. The first is, that while we have no account here of the rapture of the saints, of the church being caught away to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4), the church is yet seen in heaven. It is quite true that the twenty-four elders may include other saints than members of the body of Christ (this will be explained afterwards); but the church, if with others, is represented by the elders, and is therefore no longer on earth. It does not fall in with the purpose of this book to state the period of, or to describe, the rapture; it is nevertheless supposed. Laodicea might be still on earth, whatever the name she may have assumed, but all true believers (Christians), are, when the fourth chapter opens, above with the Lord.
The second thing to be observed is, that John's point of view, standpoint, is changed. In Revelation 1 he is on earth, and he saw, in a vision, Christ, "like unto the Son of man," on earth, in the midst of the seven churches, examining, judicially examining, their state, and setting forth, in the seven epistles, His infallible judgment of their condition, together with suited encouragements, warnings, and promises. Here John beholds "a door opened in heaven; and the first voice which I heard, as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither," etc. It is from heaven, the only true place of vision, he is to view and describe the events which are to take place on the earth.
It may further be remarked, that both Rev. 4 and Rev. 5 form a kind of introduction to the various actions and judgments afterwards recorded, laying, as it were, the foundation on which all proceeds, or giving the ground on which God resumes His dealings with the earth, both with Israel and the Gentiles, in judgment.
The moral connection between verses 1 and 2 is exceedingly beautiful. John had received the command, "Come up hither"; and He who gave the command bestowed, as ever, the requisite power for compliance with it. He tells us, "And immediately I was in the Spirit." This expression will indicate, as pointed out in Rev. 1, that John, similarly to Paul in 2 Cor. 12, was rapt away, in the power of the Spirit, from earth and earthly scenes, and that for the time he was so characterized by the Spirit that he would be unconscious of bodily existence. Whether in the body or out of the body he would not know, and thus there would be nothing to impede his reception of these divinely given visions. He was in this way qualified to become the vessel of these revelations.
Thereon he proceeds to describe what he saw: "And, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald." (vv. 2, 3.)
The first thing that John saw, when in the Spirit, was a throne. Our translation does not exactly express the sense of the original. It is not that a throne was "set" for the occasion, as might be supposed, but rather that a throne "stood" in heaven; and it was the throne as standing there that met the gaze of John. The idea of government is necessarily associated with a throne. The government of the earth, from the day that judgment had been executed upon the kingdom, the metropolis of which was Jerusalem, had been committed to the Gentiles. (See Daniel 2) But God never abdicated His rights, or ceased to govern by His providence the nations of the earth. (Daniel 4 24-35.) He had retired from His throne in the midst of Israel, but His throne was fixed in heaven, and from that throne He not only "ruled in the kingdom of men, and gave it to whomsoever He would," but also as a consequence He held those to whom He had committed the government responsible to Himself. If Israel had failed, and if, with greater privileges, greater light, and more power, the church has failed as God's witness and light-bearer on the earth, so also have the Gentile depositaries of power. In Rev. 2 and Rev. 3 we have seen Christ judging the church, and we have heard His final sentence — that He would utterly reject it as His vessel of testimony. In this chapter the preparation for the judgment of the world — the nations — comes before us, and hence the first thing noticed is God's stable and righteous throne.
There is also one sitting on the throne, and His appearance, the apostle tells us, was "like a jasper and a sardine stone." In Rev. 21 we read that the New Jerusalem, when she descends out of heaven from God, has "the glory of God," and that her light — that is, the light of this glory — is "like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone." (vv. 10, 11) It is interesting also to notice that in the breastplate of the Jewish high priest the sardius (sardine) was the first and the jasper the last of the precious stones (Ex. 28), these two including, as it were, all the rest.* More cannot be said than that these two stones are divinely chosen as emblems of the glory of God, as displayed in His righteous government according to what He is, for it is this glory John was permitted to behold.
*Both are also found in the twelve foundations of the heavenly city; but here the jasper comes first (the glory being at the beginning, so to speak, instead of at the end, as in Judaism) and the sardius the sixth.
The next feature is the rainbow round about the throne, in sight like an emerald. How gracious of God to remind His servant, just as He is about to unfold the long series of judgments wherewith He will smite the earth, of His everlasting covenant with this creation! (Gen. 9) In the midst of His wrath He will remember mercy. This rainbow too is in appearance like unto an emerald, significant, it may be, of the fact that the issue of all God's dealings with the world will be seen in the eternal freshness and beauty of that new earth, together with the new heavens, of which John speaks in Rev. 21.
Another thing the apostle pauses to describe before proceeding, "And round about the throne were four and twenty thrones:* and upon the thrones I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on, their heads crowns of gold." (v. 4.) Who then are the elders? Two things mark them — white raiment and crowns of gold. The first of these things speaks of their priestly character (Exodus 28:39-43, etc.), and the second as plainly tells of their royal dignity. In one word, they are those who through association with Christ (though not yet in display) are kings and priests. John himself, when he breaks forth in adoration in the name of the saints, uses these two terms.† The reason for the number twenty-four is found in 1 Chronicles 24:1-4. When David distributed the priests into courses he found there were twenty-four heads of the priestly families, and hence there were that number of courses; and these twenty-four heads were consequently representative of the whole priesthood. In like manner the twenty-four elders (the principle being known in Scripture) are taken to represent, not only the saints of this period, but also the saints (all who are Christ's) who share in the first resurrection. For it should ever be borne in mind that, while only believers since Pentecost are members of the body of Christ, He will yet call out of their graves, on His return, all the saints of every previous dispensation.
*The word is really thrones, and not "seats."
†We do not here enter upon the question of readings, whether kings" or "kingdom" is to be preferred. The truth remains the same. (Rev. 1:5, 6.)
It should moreover be noted that the elders are "round about" the throne.* It follows from the note cited below that the elders are more intimately than any connected with the throne; and remembering that they themselves are seated on thrones, we understand at once the wondrous position of favour and exaltation which they occupy in this scene. This would be unintelligible to us did we not know that, according to the counsels of our God, we have already been brought, through the death and resurrection of Christ, into the acceptance of Christ Himself before Him. And it is this fact alone that explains to us the possibility of the elders sitting in peace around what is really a throne of judgment, and while there proceeded out of it "lightnings and thunderings and voices," ever in this book the heralds and accompaniments of the display of God's judicial power. (See Rev. 10:3, Rev. 11:19, Rev. 16:18, etc.)
*The word given here as "round about" is not the same as is translated in the same way in verse 6. The following note will explain the difference: "I use 'round' (the word in verse 4) for what is connected with anything — I do not say united to — as a centre, as the tire of a wheel; 'around' (the word in verse 6) for what is standing as a circle outside, around anything."
There were also "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal." (vv. 5, 6.) The number seven characterizes the Holy Spirit in this book (see Rev. 1:4, Rev. 3:1, Rev. 5:6), symbolic, that is, of the fulness or plenitude of the Spirit's power in the connection indicated. In the next chapter, the Lamb is said to have "seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth" — a figure expressive of perfect intelligence in the government of the earth according to God. But here it is seven lamps of fire burning, not on the earth, but before the throne. Fire expresses, as constantly, the holiness of God in judgment, and we learn therefore that the judgments which God is about to execute will be in the perfection of the power of the Spirit, according to the immutable standard of the holiness of the divine nature. What a difference from the present power and activity of the Holy Ghost in the Church, or from His power in testimony to the world through the gospel! This feature alone should have preserved any from confounding "the things that are" with the "things after these."
With respect to the sea of glass like unto crystal, it has been significantly remarked, "No altar of sacrifice is in view, as if it were a time of approach; the brazen laver has glass instead of water. It is a fixed, accomplished holiness, not a cleansing of feet." The door indeed has been shut (Matt. 25), the Holy Spirit has departed with the church, and consequently is above, and not below; and the interval between the rapture of the saints and the appearing of Christ in glory is therefore for the prophetic world marked, not by grace, but by judgment.
Another thing meets the eyes of the rapt apostle: "And in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts,* full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." (vv. 6-8.)
*This word is entirely different from that translated "beast" in Rev. 13, etc. In these cases it is properly "beast," setting forth the embodiment of the evil energies of man; but in our chapter it is simply living things or creatures; and thus "living creatures" (as in Ezekiel 1: etc.) will be used in speaking of these cherubic forms of existence.
The reader will be interested in comparing these living creatures with the seraphim in Isaiah 6, with the cherubim in the tabernacle and temple, and also with the cherubim in Ezekiel 1 and 10, and in noting their characteristic differences. The following remarks will aid in the examination: "They (the living creatures) have some of the characters of the cherubim, some of the seraphim, but somewhat different from both. They were full of eyes, before and behind, to see all things according to God, and within; having also six wings, perfect in inward perception, but given perception, and in the celerity of their motions. They embraced also the four species of creation in the ordered earth — man, cattle, beast of the field, fowl of the air — these symbolizing the powers or attributes of God, themselves worshipped by the heathen, here only the instruments of the throne. Him who sat on it the heathen knew not. The intelligence, firmness, power, rapidity of execution, which belong to God, were typified as elsewhere by them. They are symbols. Divers agents may be the instruments of their activity. But though there was the general analogy of the cherubim — judicial and governmental power — these had a peculiar character. . . . The symbols used here become clearer through these cases (in the tabernacle, Isaiah, and Ezekiel). The living creatures are in and around the throne; for it is a throne of executory judgment, with the attributes of cherubim united to it. But it is not, as in Israel, mere earthly providential judgment — a whirlwind out of the north. (Ezekiel 1:4.) There is before us the government of all the earth, and executory judgment according to the holiness of God's nature."*
* Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, vol. 4.
Such are the living creatures; and their occupation, as given here, is that of incessant praise — praising God according to the revelation of Himself in the Old Testament — namely, as Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come; the eternal God, who ever is — and embraces all the past, and all the future in His ever-present and blessed existence. It is to Him the living creatures unceasingly cry, Holy, holy, holy. They celebrate what He is in Himself.
When, moreover, they "give glory and honour and thanks to Him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." (vv. 9-11.) It has been remarked "that the living creatures only celebrate and declare; the elders worship with understanding." All God's works will praise Him; but it is only the redeemed who have the mind of Christ, and can, through the Holy Spirit, enter into and have fellowship with the things of God, whether in grace or in judgment. When, therefore, God is praised by the living creatures, the elders "are all activity, own all glory to be His, are prostrate on their faces, and cast their crowns before Him, more blessed in owning His glory than in possessing their own." And the last words of their adoration show clearly the ground taken in this chapter. They praise Him as the Creator, and express their sense of His consequent sovereign claims over all His creatures. It was His will alone that called them into being, and it was by reason of His will alone they continued to exist. Thus, dependent on their Creator, they are surely amenable to Him for judgement.
IF in Revelation 4 God is celebrated as the Lord God Almighty, and as worthy to receive glory and honour and power as the sovereign Creator, in this chapter it is the Lamb who is worshipped, and who is proclaimed with adoration to be the worthy One because of His suffering death, and the redemption He thereby has wrought. Every word of the chapter is consequently replete with instruction.
First, John records: "And I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne a book. written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals." (v. 1) It should be observed that, while God is seated on the throne, and John speaks of the character of His glory (Rev. 4), and even of His right hand there is yet not a word used inconsistent with the fact that "God is a Spirit." We are made to feel that He is sitting on the throne, rather than permitted to see Him. The book, written within and on the back, would be like the ordinary rolls of those days, written on both sides; and its being sealed with seven seals imports that it was perfectly sealed, its contents unknown, because shut up by divine power. It is undoubtedly the book of God's counsels respecting the earth, not His eternal counsels, but His purposes, not yet unfolded or made good, concerning the world.
The book, thus introduced, strong angel appears on the scene, and cries with a loud voice, challenging, as it were, the whole universe, "Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?" There was no response to the challenge; for, in truth, there was not one, from Gabriel downwards, of all God's creatures, who had the requisite qualification to undertake the task. John, on this account, wept much because no man (" no one ") was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. (vv. 2-4.) Then one of the elders — not the angel, remark, but one of the elders — for it is these alone who possess the intelligence of God and of His ways (compare Rev. 7:13, 14), said unto him, "Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof." (v. 5.) It is the Messiah of prophecy who is thus indicated, though, as we shall see, the Messiah who had been rejected and "slain," and was now, in consequence, exalted to the right hand of power. Jacob had thus spoken: "Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?" And the very next verse speaks of the coming of Shiloh, unto whom the gathering of the peoples should be. (Gen. 49:9, 10.) The Lion of the tribe of Judah, therefore, tells of the irresistible, all-conquering power of Messiah in conflict with His enemies. (Compare Psalm 18:37-44); and the "Root of David" sets Him forth rather as David's Lord than as David's Son — the Root here, not the Offspring. In this presentation we have, then, the Messiah in the truth of His divine Person, combined with His victorious power in conflict. John "beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth." (v. 6.) What a contrast between the thoughts of God and the thoughts of man! "A Lion, the Root of David." What majesty, dignity, visible display of strength, energy, and all-commanding power might we expect to behold! But no; it was a Lamb, and a Lamb as it had been slain! Ah! here is the divine secret of His exaltation, and of His having prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. Let us examine this wonderful exhibition more in detail.
The first thing demanding attention is the position the Lamb occupies. He is here shown as the prominent object in heaven — God's object, and the object of all those who surround the throne. As we therefore contemplate Him as the all-absorbing object of heaven, in the measure in which He is the object of our hearts, we are in communion with the mind of God. The privilege thus is ours of delighting in Him in whom God delights. But, more exactly, the Lamb is seen to be the central object of the throne. He is in the midst of the throne, and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders. As it has been interpreted, "The rejected Messiah was in the midst of the divine throne, and within all the displays of providence and grace," as exemplified respectively by the four living creatures and the elders.
In the next place, His characteristics are to be considered. He has seven horns. A horn is the emblem of power, and we thus learn that He possesses (it is a question of earth now, not heaven) all power, the perfection of power, over the earth; and the seven eyes proclaim His perfect intelligence, wielded in the power of the Spirit, for the government of the earth according to God. And let it be repeated, that the fact of His having been slain, whereby the cross and the throne are connected, constitutes the ground of His present supremacy and power, as well as His qualification to make good upon the earth in government the purposes of God. He is thus alike the ground and object of all God's ways and purposes.
Having presented to us the Lamb, as it had been slain, and exhibited His perfect qualifications — qualifications acquired through shame, rejection, and death, the action of taking the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne, is described. What a moment for heaven was this! On earth all was confusion and corruption. Man, energized by Satan (we speak of the future it will be remembered), was dominant, rejecting God, and demanding divine honours for himself. (See 2 Thess. 2) Who could step into such a scene, curb the power of evil, re-assert God's authority, govern the nations righteously, and cause the earth to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea? The answer is here given. It is the slain, but now exalted, Lamb; and He gives the pledge of what He is about to do in taking the book out of the right hand of God.
The significance of His action is understood by heaven; for as soon as He had taken the book, "the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung* a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us† to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us‡ unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth." (vv. 8-10.)
*It should be rather "sing."
†The word "us" should probably be omitted. Still, if so, it is the redeemed represented by the twenty-four elders who are indicated, only they are in the background, because it is the worthiness of the Lamb they celebrate, rather than their own redemptive blessings.
‡If we omit "us" in the preceding verse, "them" should be read here instead of "us," and "they" for "we" in what follows.
In the first place, the living creatures and the elders alike, on the Lamb taking the book, prostrate themselves before Him; and we are told that they all* had harps, and golden "bowls" full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints. As yet the harps are silent; for the moment the elders are seen as priests. In what way the prayers of saints are presented through them, or who are the saints spoken of, is not revealed. It is, however, certain that the glorified saints do not need to pray, and it may therefore be well concluded that it is the saints on earth, whose prayers are symbolized by these odours. (Compare Rev. 6:9-11, and Rev. 8:3-5.) May it not be, that the direct intervention of God, while in accordance with His own purposes, is yet in answer to the cry of the suffering remnant upon earth? (See Luke 18:7, 8.)
*It is not quite clear whether "every one of them" includes the living creatures. Strictly speaking, as has often been pointed out, "having" applies only to the elders. If so, it would be only the elders who had the harps, and golden vials full of odours.
Following upon this action, they celebrate His praise. A new glory of the exalted Lamb being displayed, they sing a new song the subject of which is His worthiness to open the seals of the book, because of His having been slain, and because of the redemption He had thereby wrought for His people. Let the following striking words explain this: "What seemed His dishonour and rejection on earth was the ground of His worthiness to take the book. He, who at all suffering and cost to Himself had glorified all that God was, was able and worthy to unfold what made it good in the way of government. It was not the government of Israel, but of all the earth; not merely chastisements according to God's revelation of Himself in Israel, but the display in power of all God was in the whole earth. He who had glorified all He was, and redeemed, by the gospel of what He was through His death, out of all the earth, was the fit One to bring it forth in power."* He was therefore not only worthy, but the only worthy One in the universe, to make good on the earth the glory of God, on account of which He had suffered the death of the cross.
*Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, vol. v.
But, blessed be His name, He had, through His precious blood which had been shed, redeemed souls to God from every quarter of the globe, and had associated them with Himself as kings and priests to God, assuring them thereby that when He should establish His kingdom, they should reign with Him "over" the earth. What wonder was it, that the contemplation of the worthiness of the Lamb, and of these divine unfoldings of God's glorious ways in grace and power, should bow the hearts of the living creatures and the elders before the Lamb, and call forth such strains of melody, strains that will become the lips of the redeemed throughout eternity? And it is more wonderful still that, with such revelations, the redeemed on earth may, even now, anticipate this eternal occupation, and so find relief to their overcharged hearts in chanting the worthiness of the Lamb.
Another class now appears upon the scene: "And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing." (vv. 11, 12.) In reading this response of the angels to the celebration of the worthiness of the Lamb by the elders, it is impossible not to recall the well-known lines -
"Hark! ten thousand voices crying
'Lamb of God!' with one accord
Thousand thousand saints replying,
Wake at once the echoing chord.
'Praise the Lamb!' the chorus waking,
All in heaven together throng;
Loud and far each tongue partaking,
Rolls around the endless song.
Grateful incense this ascending
Ever to the Father's throne;
Every knee to Jesus bending,
All the mind in heaven is one."
And it is so, for the praise of the angels, awakened by the song of the elders, though on another ground, shows the perfect concord of heaven in the adoration of the Lamb.
There are several distinct points to be noticed for the fuller understanding of the scene. It should, then, be observed that these myriads of worshipping angels form, if the words may be used, the outer circle of the heavenly hosts; they are round about the throne, and the, beasts, and the elders. In the ineffable grace of God, the redeemed, as being in Christ, are brought into a nearer place than the created intelligences that have never fallen from their creature perfectness! This is a well-known truth, but how little do we apprehend it in power. Moreover, the angels, as often remarked, say, and do not sing, their praises. It is only those who are redeemed, as Scripture everywhere shows, that can utter their praise in song. There are also, it will be seen, seven things they proclaim the Lamb as worthy to receive; that is, He is worthy to receive all things. It is the ascription to Him of all possible exaltation, dominion, and blessing.
Besides this, it has been significantly remarked, "I can hardly doubt that a change in administrative order takes place here. Until the Lamb took the book, they (the angels) were the administrative power;* they were the instruments through which, what the four living creatures symbolized was exercised on earth. 'For unto the angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.' Hence, as soon as the Lamb appears and takes the book, as soon as the idea of redemption is brought in, the living creatures and the elders are brought together, and the angels take their own place apart. Like the living creatures before, they give no reason for their praise."†
*This may be seen everywhere in the Old Testament, where angels continually appear upon the earth as the executants of God's will.
†The Synopsis, vol. v. p. 503.
The praise, commenced in heaven, descends, and spreads abroad, over, and under, the earth, as well as throughout the sea, until every sentient thing unites in the adoration ascending to "Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever." (v 13.) This is the song of redeemed creation, in unison with the song of heaven, earth being now (here in anticipation) in perfect accord with heaven in the worship of God and the Lamb.* Redeemed creation ascribes but four things to the Lamb, perhaps because four is the symbol of completeness on earth, even as seven, as seen in the angels' celebration, is that of absolute perfection.
*It is important to distinguish between "under the earth" in Philippians 2:10 and the same words in verse 13 of our chapter. In truth the phrases in the original are very different. In Philippians infernal beings ((lemons) are indicated; whereas in Revelation it is merely creatures under the surface of the earth — "on the earth and under the earth" being used to include everything that has life. (See Psalm 150:6.)
The four living creatures add their "Amen" to the song of creation, and the elders fall down and worship.* They have already offered their vocal praises, and now they are silently on their faces, their hearts filled and overflowing with unutterable adoration.
*The words "Him that liveth for ever and ever" should be omitted. The Lamb is the prominent object of the chapter.
THE direct action of this part of the book now commences, in accordance with its character, with a series of judgments. Rev. 4 and Rev. 5 are, as we have seen preparatory and introductory; they unfold to us the scene in heaven in relation to the events which are about to take place on the earth. Man may sever earth from heaven; but God, spite of the will and evil energies of man, still holds the reins of government, whatever the instruments He may be pleased to employ, in His own hands. To borrow language: "God's ways are behind the scenes; but He moves all the scenes which He is behind. We have to learn this, and let Him work, and not think much of man's busy movements; they will accomplish God's. The rest of them all perish and disappear. We have only peacefully to do His will."
A striking illustration of this truth is found in the first verse of our chapter. John says: And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come [and see].* And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer." (vv. 1, 2.) The important point to be observed is, that the coming forth of the white horse on earth is the result of the Lamb opening the seal in heaven. The rider might be acting entirely from his own will, but here we are permitted to see the source of his activity. He might be wholly ignorant of it, but none the less is he the instrument of the divine will. Lust of conquest might be his sole motive, just as it was in the case of Nebuchadnezzar in days of old, only God in His infinite wisdom knows how to make the wrath of man to praise Him in the accomplishment of His purposes.
*There is considerable doubt as to the authenticity of the words enclosed in brackets — "and see," as also in verses 3, 5, 7. If accepted, the address is manifestly to John; if omitted, it would hardly be so, though it may be generally to call attention to what follows. Various interpretations have been offered, and some of them very fanciful.
Who, then, is this rider upon the white horse? Before this question is answered, the reader must be reminded that, in accordance with the interpretation given on Revelation 4, the events here symbolized are wholly future. There are those who, missing the truth of the church and the church's hope, regard this scripture as already fulfilled; and, having ransacked the records of the past, they will point to certain events which, in their judgment, correspond with these symbols. This is to turn prophecy into history, besides ignoring, as already noticed, the threefold division of this book made by the Lord Himself. (Rev. 1:19.) It is quite true that there are often foreshadowings of the fulfilment of a prophecy, even as the first Napoleon, flitting across the stage of the world, was by his energy and rapidity of conquest, an undoubted shadow of the final head of the Roman Empire, if not indeed the seventh head, of whom the angel said, "When he cometh, he must continue a short space." (Rev. 17:10.) But it is a mistake to suppose that, because striking agreements with the thing predicted can be detected, you have found its complete fufilment. We need, therefore, to be on our guard; and then, when we understand the structure of the book, and that all after Rev. 3 relates to the future, we shall be kept from vain surmisings, and be able reverently to pursue our enquiry.
Returning then to our question, we must, in order to seek the answer, attend to the details here given. The prominent object is the white horse.* A horse is often used in Scripture as a symbol of God's power in His providential government (see Zechariah 1:8-11); and the white horse, from the analogy of Rev. 19, would seem to be connected with the exercise of victorious judgments, all-conquering might in conquest. The rider has a bow, setting forth his warrior character; and a crown was given unto him.† The import of this statement will be, that this mighty conqueror, used as others have been in past ages for the execution of God's judgments upon earth, is not a monarch when he first appears, but one who obtains a crown by his energy, his strategy, or his victories. The powers that be are ordained of God, and hence, though this successful warrior may even seize his crown, it is yet given to him.‡ Lastly, he goes forth conquering and to conquer; no one, and nothing, can withstand his seemingly irresistible power, as he marches on through victory to victory.
*To maintain, as some have done, that because the Lord Himself comes out of heaven on a white horse (Rev. 19:11), it is also Christ on the white horse here, is to overlook the plainest teachings of this vision.
†We append the following note from the New Translation: "Or 'had been given to him'; that is, it is not expressive of a particular time. He had one which was given to him. But it is the same tense as 'went forth.'"
‡This is saying too much; for while "the powers that be" are ordained of God up to the rapture of the saints, it would seem that God does not recognise any power as derived from Himself in the interval between the rapture and the appearing of Christ. The crown therefore will be given by man.
Such is the divine portrayal of a mighty conqueror who will arise hereafter, as the blind instrument, like Nebuchadnezzar, of God's vengeance upon the nations of the earth. Who he will be it is impossible, spite of the pretensions of men, to forecast; but from indications given in this book, it may be that the picture finds its counterpart in the first "beast" of Rev. 13; that is, the imperial head of the western empire. (vv. 1-8; see also Rev. 17:10-12.)
The next three seals may be referred to in fewer words. There are two points in them common to the first: the event on earth follows upon the opening of the seal in heaven, and it is one of the living creatures in each case that calls attention to the effect of opening the seal. This latter point aids in the understanding of the character of the event; for, if the living creatures are emblems of the attributes of God as displayed in creation, and are seen in heaven as connected with the throne, a "throne of executory judgment," it is evident that we are here upon the ground "of the providential course of God's dealings"-dealings in judgment, it must be remembered, by which He is about to make good His character in government on the earth. But, as has been written, "they have God's voice in them, the voice of the Almighty; which the ear of him who has the Spirit hears. These (the consequences on earth of opening the seals in heaven) complete the providential plagues as spoken of in Scripture. Then direct judgments follow. These (the providential plagues) are what we may call preparatory measures."* The principles thus laid down will enable us to grasp more intelligently the following parts of the vision.
*Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
On the opening of the second, third, and fourth seals other horses appear, red, black, and pale — all emblematical of their mission. In each of these cases, as it would seem, the rider is less prominent than in the case of the first, being, as it were, bound up with the horse so as to present a single idea. Thus the second horse is red, a colour connected with blood-shedding; and in agreement with this, it is given to the rider to take away peace from the earth; and the period would be characterized by internecine warfare, men should kill one another; and of all this the great sword given to the rider is but a symbol. Nor must it be overlooked, that this second horse may be intimately associated with the first; so also the third and fourth with their predecessors. It is what will mark the time of which John writes, and of which the Lord Himself had forewarned His disciples. (See Matt. 24:6, 7.)
Famine is set forth by the black horse, an almost invariable result, as history testifies, of prolonged wars and conflicts. The quantity of wheat and barley needful for the barest sustenance* would be sold for a penny; that is, a denarius. But in the midst of widespread desolation and want, God thinks of the needs of His creatures, and limits the effects of the famine by sparing the oil and the wine.
*It has sometimes been noticed that a measure of wheat was the daily allowance for a Roman soldier.
Pestilence as plainly characterizes the fourth horse; for his colour is pale, and his name that sat on him was Death; and Hades, the abode of the dead, followed, as if, in the striking meaning of the figure, to gather up, as its prey, those whom death or the pestilence might destroy. There was, moreover, "power given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth." (v. 8.) War, famine, pestilence, and the plague of wild beasts are now crowded together (as they have often been) as attendant upon, or the results of, the" judicial scourges. These are what Ezekiel calls God's four sore plagues (Rev. 14:21; compare also Rev. 5 and Rev. 6); and these are the weapons with which He will one day deal with the earth on account of her iniquity. We have said "the earth"; it is really the fourth part of the earth. The "third part" is a prophetic expression for the Roman Empire; and accordingly we gather that these fearful judgments will be limited in their area. that the whole of the Roman earth will not be visited. They will constitute, as preparatory inflictions, solemn warnings, God's call to those who can recognise His hand to humiliation and repentance. (Cp. Rev. 11:13.)
With the opening of the fifth seal an insight is vouchsafed into the condition of the remnant testimony during the procession of the events associated with the previous seals: "And when He had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held," (v. 9.) There will thus he persecution, and that of the severest kind. As the Lord Himself, speaking of this same period, forewarned His disciples, "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake." (Matt. 24:9; compare Rev. 12:17.) The Holy Ghost will have departed with the church; the will of man and the power of evil will be unbridled; it will be man's hour and the power of darkness, and the consequence will be relentless animosity against all who maintain the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. These witnesses for God will undoubtedly be Jews, quickened Jews, who will come into the place of testimony after the saints have been caught up into the air to be for ever with the Lord, and who will form the persecuted remnant so often met with in the Book of Psalms. That they are not Christians is shown from their cry for vengeance, as well as indeed from the name in which they address God. They do not possess the Spirit of adoption; they cry, "O Sovereign Ruler,* holy and true." etc. (v. 10.)
*Such is the rendering given in the New Translation.
But their cry is heard; for "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 also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled." (v. 11) The following words explain this scene: "Their being under the altar means simply that they had offered their bodies, as sacrifices for the truth, to God. The white robes are the witnesses of their righteousness — God's declared approval of them. . . . I do not think giving white robes is resurrection." Indeed, the fact that others were yet to be martyred proves that it is not; for we afterwards read, "And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." (Rev. 20:4.) Here we have the complete company of God's faithful witnesses, who, during the interval between the coming of Christ for the church and His appearing, did not count their lives dear unto them, but sealed their testimony with their blood, and who are now seen to have the blessed recompense of enjoying part in the first resurrection. The witnesses of our chapter belong to this company, and meanwhile white robes are bestowed upon them in token of God's approval and recognition of their fidelity.
The Lamb now opens the sixth seal: "And, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together: and every mountain and island were moved out of their places." (vv. 12-14.) That this, in accordance with the nature of the book, is symbolical language is evident (see Rev. 11, Rev. 12; Daniel 8, 9, 10, etc.); and hence the meaning is that, consequent upon opening the sixth seal, there will be "a violent convulsion of the whole structure of society," whereby all order and every form of government, supreme, derivative, or subordinate (sun, moon, stars), will be overturned and, for the time, destroyed.*
*The world has witnessed many such moral earthquakes, among the most notable of which was the French Revolution of 1789, that which France recently celebrated. It was probably the most violent outburst against God that has ever been seen since the cross; and yet such is the spirit of the age, that Christians could be found in numbers to assist at its centennial commemoration!
The effect of this awful commotion is next described. Every class of society, from the kings of the earth down to the poor slaves, are filled with abject terror. They had been making themselves happy without God; but while, like Belshazzar, they were feasting themselves to their hearts' content with their wicked enjoyments, the whole framework of man's order, on which they had been reposing in fancied security, is smitten, and shattered into ten thousand pieces. God does not appear in the judgment; but man has a conscience, and thus it is, in the presence of this dire visitation, that all alike are apprehensive of the wrath of God and of the Lamb. Ah! where now is man's courage? His warriors even tremble in the felt presence of a God whose very existence they had hitherto denied, and with one accord they seek to hide themselves, as they cry to the mountains and 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?" (vv 16, 17.) That day had not yet come; but in the terror of the moment, inspired by the awful events through which they are passing, they anticipate it, and their consciences rightly tell them that they will not be able to stand before the God whose fear they had utterly cast off, and before the Lamb, whom they had scorned and rejected, when once He rises up to execute His judgments in the earth.
THAT the great day of the Lord's wrath, though anticipated in Rev. 6, had not yet come is plainly seen in this chapter. Before that could arrive, God's elect of Israel had to be marked out for preservation, and an innumerable multitude of Gentiles exhibited as about to be brought through the great tribulation. This chapter therefore constitutes a kind of parenthesis between the sixth and seventh seals. The first six seals were opened in immediate succession; but now there is a pause, and our attention is directed to an action from heaven in relation to Israel, and to those about to be redeemed from among the nations, before the last seal is broken. We read, "And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have seated the servants of our God in their foreheads." (vv. 1-3.)
Angels, as ever, are the ministers of God's providential government. Here they are seen in the character of the executors, of His judgments. (Compare Matt. 13:41, 42, 49, 50; Isaiah 37:36, etc.) They are presented here indeed as the restrainers of the powers of evil, as well as the executors through these, in God's own time, of His vengeance. They stand upon the four corners of the earth, the whole earth (the number four being the symbol of earthly completeness) being under their delegated control. Remark also that they hold ("hold fast") the four winds of the earth, etc. The four winds are symbols, as one has written, "of those disturbing elements, existing in all quarters, which God can at His will let loose in judgment." Daniel thus said, "I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea." (Rev. 7:2.) The sea in this scripture, as in our chapter, represents the nations in a state of tumult or commotion (compare Rev. 13:1), while the earth sets forth rather the nations in the enjoyment of ordered government. Trees are often used in Scripture as figures of the great ones of the earth. (See Daniel 4:19-22; Ezekiel 17, 31, etc.)
We learn then that no judicial scourge or chastisement can fall upon the nations in the enjoyment of ordered government, upon the seething mass of the peoples when characterized by insurrection or revolutionary violence, or upon the kings or princes of the earth, until permitted of God; nay, until He sends it, even as He formerly sent the surrounding nations to punish His people Israel for their sins and transgressions.
We learn, secondly, that God's government of the world is in view of His people. The command given to the four angels by the angel ascending from. the east was, that they were not to hurt the earth, nor the sea, nor the trees, "till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." In like manner, when judgment was about to fall upon Jerusalem, the Lord caused a mark to be set upon the foreheads of the men that sighed, and that cried for all the abominations that were done in the midst thereof (Ezek. 9.), and this faithful remnant was preserved in the midst of the overflowing scourge.
The angel that ascended from the east had the seal of the living God.* The difference between this sealing and that of believers now with the Holy Ghost will be at once perceived by the instructed reader. Believers of this dispensation are sealed immediately on the forgiveness of sins, and they are sealed unto the day of redemption. (Eph. 4:30.) The 144,000 of this chapter are sealed with the seal of the living God for preservation through the judgments that will fall upon the world, and which will constitute for Israel the day of Jacob's trouble (Jer. 30:4-9; see also Matt. 24:21, 22); and they are sealed for blessing on the earth in the kingdom of their glorious Messiah.
*It has been thought by many that this angel is no less a personage than our blessed Lord. It is undoubted that He does appear in this book (as we may be permitted to see) under the guise of an angel; but here we prefer leaving the question undecided.
This 144,000 are composed of 12,000 from each tribe.* The number is symbolical. Twelve is the number of administrative perfection of government in man; and it thus appears in the foundations, gates, and dimensions of the new Jerusalem. (Rev. 21.) It will mean, therefore, a perfect number reserved for the kingdom, and through whom Messiah will govern the nations upon the earth. They will not all be gathered in, though all are foreknown, at the same time; for only two tribes will be in the land when Messiah appears in His glory; and it will not be until after He has established His throne, that He will fetch the ten tribes out of their hiding-places, and, after He has purged out the rebels in the wilderness, bring them back to the land. (Ezekiel 20:33-44; Jer. 30.) But every one who has the seal of the living God on his forehead will be preserved, and will, at the appointed time, be restored to blessing in Immanuel's land.
*It will be noticed that Dan is omitted, whereas in Deut. 33 Simeon is omitted. The reasons for these omissions are not known, but many conjectures are offered.
Following upon this, we are introduced to another class who will be brought in safety through the unparalleled troubles which are yet to occur. "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." (vv. 9, 10.) It should be remembered that this vast multitude is seen in vision, and that, therefore, at the time of the vision they were not yet existent, much less delivered; but before the great tribulation (v. 14), God permits His servant to see the issue of His ways of grace in the midst of His governmental judgments. This innumerable throng of Gentiles (for they are composed of "all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues") are the elect of God's purpose for earthly blessing outside of the elect of Israel, those, therefore, who will be preserved through the hour of temptation (not kept out of it, as the church will he (chapter 3:10), but saved through it) which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. It may be added that they are nowhere else spoken of in Scripture; it is, in fact, a new revelation, and one that shows the victorious energy of God's grace in the face of the most complete display of Satan's power that the world will have ever witnessed.
Their position is before the throne, and before the Lamb. The heavenly saints, as typified by the four and twenty elders, are seated on thrones round about the throne; these stand before the throne, and before the Lamb. The difference, with its import, will at once be perceived; and, in fact, as will be afterwards seen, this multitude, while occupying a very special place of blessing, are still on earth. They are clothed with white robes, fruit of the efficacy of the blood of the Lamb* (v. 14); and they have palms in their hands — the emblem of their victorious deliverance. But if victors, they have overcome, as another class in Rev. 12, "by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." The ascription of praise which they render is also very different from that of the heavenly saints in Rev. 5. These cry (they do not sing), "Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." Redemption is not the ground of their praise; it is rather their deliverance (salvation — salvation through their unequalled sorrows) which they celebrate, although they ascribe all to God, God in His government, and to the Lamb "as having the title to the government and deliverance of the earth as a present thing."
*It may be rather that, while the blood of the Lamb is the fundamental and efficacious cause of all their blessing, the white robes may indicate moral suitability to their position. They had maintained practical holiness.
The angels* enter now upon the scene, and worship God prostrate on their faces before the throne, "Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen." (v. 12.) They are interested spectators of the homage which the white-robed multitude render to God and the Lamb, but, "naturally, salvation to the Lamb was not their own part of the song," for they had ever stood in their own creature-perfection; and hence they, having added their "Amen" to the praise of the multitude, worship their God, ascribing to Him their sevenfold theme of praise (cp. Rev. 5:12), and sealing it with another "Amen."
*"The four living creatures and the elders do not worship here, because their own relationships were different, and these are not what are spoken of here."
Having been permitted to see, through John, the victorious and worshipping Gentile throng, their character and blessing are now unfolded. "And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of [the] great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (vv. 13, 14.) Remark, first, how every family in heaven is interested in the activities of God and the Lamb both in grace and government, and also how closely the glorified in heaven is bound up with the redeemed on earth. It is only in our minds that heaven and earth are so widely sundered. The angels, as we have seen, delight in beholding this Gentile throng; and now one of the elders steps forth (otherwise we would not have known that they were in the scene), and, as commissioned, explains to John who this multitude are. First, then, they have come out of the great tribulation. It is not only, as in our translation, great, but emphatically the great tribulation, the time referred to, as already indicated, in Rev. 3:10. It is not the same thing as "Jacob's trouble," though undoubtedly connected with, if not springing out of it; and it will occur during the three years and a half of antichrist's fearful sway, sustained as he will be by the head of the western empire, the first beast of Revelation 13. It is to this same period our blessed Lord refers when He says, "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." (Matt. 24:21.) He speaks of the' Jewish trouble, while "the great tribulation" has reference to the oppression and persecution through which the Gentiles will have to pass. In the contemplation of this fearful event, it is no small consolation to find that God will use the unexampled sorrows of that day, if on the one hand for the chastisement of the haughty peoples of the earth, on the other hand for the blessing of this vast throng of souls. They will come out of this terrible tribulation, and, moreover, they will have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. It is most interesting to note that in all dispensations every family of the saved will alike have to trace all their blessing back to the efficacy of the blood of the Lamb.*
*It may again be remarked that in Scripture we are never said to wash our own robes in the blood of Christ; but garments were always washed, as in the case of the leper, in water. The meaning may therefore be, that being under the virtue of the blood of the Lamb, this multitude had preserved themselves from the contaminations around through the word of God.
The character of their blessing is next given: "Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them." (v. 15.) We have before given the explanation of their position "before the throne of God," and the very next sentence confirms the interpretation that they occupy this blessed position on earth; for we are expressly told that there is no temple in heaven. (Rev. 21:22.) "They are not only as Israel in the courts, or the nations in the world; they have a priest's place in the world's temple. The millennial multitudes are worshippers — these priests. As Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, ever in the temple itself (where they, like her, serve day and night) they have always access to the throne." Besides this, God will, as with Israel of old in the wilderness, spread His tabernacle over them, the source of all their blessing.
His presence thus enjoyed, as well as His guardian care, "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. (vv. 16, 17.) Now, under the shepherd* care of the Lamb, and enjoying His immediate protection, guidance, and ministry, they are blessed for ever; for they should never more know hunger or thirst, but should be abundantly satisfied; nor should persecution or sorrow ever more reach them; for the Lamb Himself shall lead them to "fountains of waters of life" and God shall wipe away "every tear" from their eyes. There will surely be not one of all this multitude who will not, with overflowing heart, confess that their past sorrows are not worthy to be compared with the ineffable blessings on which they have now entered. For though they are on earth, the reader will not fail to remark that their blessings are described, at least in their highest character, in the same way as those enjoyed in the eternal state. Of this multitude, equally with those of the new earth, it is said that God wipes away their tears.†
*The word "feed" is better rendered "shepherd."
†The question of the bodily condition of this multitude, whether in a changed state or not, is left unrevealed. Certainly their blessings are of a very high order and permanent.
TO follow with intelligence the course of events connected with the trumpets, it will be necessary to recall what has already been considered. After the Lamb had taken the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne, and had received the homage and adoration of both heaven and earth, as the One who alone was worthy to make good the character of God in government, in virtue of His redemptive work, He proceeded to open the seals. Six of the seven seals are opened in Rev. 6, and the various events connected with them follow in succession. Before the seventh is broken, the 144,000 of the elect of Israel are sealed — sealed for safety and preservation — in view of the approaching judgments which will precede and usher in the establishment of the kingdom of Christ. (See Rev. 11:13.) There is, moreover, the presentation of the great multitude of Gentiles, who will be brought, according to the purpose of God, through the great tribulation which is about to come upon the whole habitable world. Before therefore God lifts up His rod to smite His ancient people, and also the nations of the earth, He permits us to see that in the midst of wrath He remembers mercy; that while Israel will be sifted among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth (Amos 9:9.); and that the terrible scourge which will be wielded in judgment over the nations will not be suffered to destroy one of that countless number whom He has named and reserved for blessing. Though therefore His path is in the sea, and He rides upon the wings of the wind, He cheers our heart by unveiling to us the issue of His dealings in judgment in pure and perfect blessing.
Another thing must be observed. There is evidently a break between the first six seals and the seventh with its developments. The first six bring in preliminary judgements constitute perhaps "the beginning of sorrows," whereas the last introduces that period of "great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." (See Matthew 24:8, 21, 22.) Bearing this distinction in mind, it will be the easier to follow the subsequent events.
We have then, first of all, the opening of the seventh seal: "And when He had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an. hour. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets." (vv. 1, 2.) Immediately upon the opening of the seventh seal there follows, not, as in the previous cases, the attendant judgment, but silence in heaven for the space of half an hour. Surely this expresses the solemnity of the crisis which has now arrived. It is, as it were, a divine pause before the infliction of the last and most awful judgments upon the habitable world. The seven angels which stood before God then appear, and to them are given seven trumpets. It will be remarked that the trumpets are developed out of the seventh seal.
Before, however, the angels sound their trumpets, there is the introduction of a brief but most significant scene. "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. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake." (vv. 3-5.) This scene is clearly in heaven, as marked by the golden altar and the throne. The angel therefore can be no less a personage than the great High Priest, the Mediator between God and His people. The prayers of all saints — saints on earth, it need scarcely be said — are seen ascending up to God upon the golden altar; but it is the action of the "Angel" in adding the incense that gives the efficacy to their prayers, for the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. This is a blessed familiar truth to every believer, and one embodied continually in our hymns of praise. For example -
"Boldly the heart and voice we raise,
His blood, His name, our plea;
Assured our prayers and songs of praise
Ascend, by Christ, to Thee."
*Literally, the word is "give"; that is, as to its meaning, that He should give efficacy to their prayers.
Yes, we all know that it is Christ — Christ in all the value of what He is to God, as having glorified Him on the cross, that gives efficacy to the prayers of His people; and it is this truth that is embodied in this symbolic scene.
But there is more. It is as an answer to the prayers of the saints that the angel took the censer, and filled it with the fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth. That is, God is pleased to associate His saints with Himself even in His ways of judgment; and thus the judgments, set forth by the fire of the altar, are seen going forth in response to the cries of His people. This plainly indicates who the saints are. They are the earthly saints after the rapture of the Church, the remnant so often appearing in the Psalms, and pleading for vengeance upon their adversaries. (See also Luke 18:7, 8.) The voices, thunderings, etc., are but varied symbols of the different forms of divine power in judgment with which this poor world is about to be visited.
The seven angels in the next place "prepared themselves to sound. The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up." (vv. 6, 7.)* The form of these judgments is reminiscent of those that fell upon Egypt. (See Exodus 9:22-26.) The language, of course, is symbolical. "Hail" is often found in Scripture as the expression of violent and destructive judgment (see Joshua 10:11; Isaiah 28, 30; Ezekiel 38:22); "fire" is significant of the holiness of God as applied in dealing judicially with men, with the thought of an all-penetrating and consuming character; while "blood" will be indicative of death, but death under the judgment of God. The expression, "The third part of the earth," etc., points to the area of the judgments. From Rev. 12:4 there can be little doubt that "the third part" refers to the extent of the Roman empire. If this be so, the prophetic Roman earth will be the scene of the terrible judgments here following upon the sounding of the first trumpet. The objects of the devastating judgment will be "trees" and "green grass." If we connect this with Rev. 7:1, it will be seen that the judgment is one of those restrained by the angels there, until the servants of God should have been sealed in their foreheads. The "trees" here, therefore, will, as there, mean the great ones of the earth; while the "green grass" being burnt up would signify, as it appears to us, the destruction of all general prosperity. God at length has stepped in, and dealt with "the man of the earth" in his pomp and pride, and dried up at the same time the sources of his wealth and greatness; but it is only as introductory to even severer judgments.
*In the best manuscripts, before the statement that "the third part of trees was burnt up," there is found this clause, "And the third part of the earth was burnt up."
The next, as connected with the sounding of the second trumpet, is described as "a great mountain burning with fire," which was "cast into the sea." A mountain in Scripture is figurative of established power, and hence sometimes of the seat of government. This symbol will accordingly mean that some such power, kindling with fire as God's judgment, is cast into the midst of the seething masses of the people, as represented by the sea. The consequence is that "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." (vv. 8, 9.) The extent of these judgments is the same as that of those which precede, as shown by the term "the third part"; and first, all through the peoples (the sea) of the Roman earth, the "blood," the "deathful power of evil" prevails; a third part of the creatures in the sea that had life died; i.e., as another has written, "I suppose dying here. to be departure from the profession of association with God, public separation from Him, or apostasy." Infidelity and atheism indeed always flourish in times of great disturbances, social earthquakes, and revolutions. The destruction of the third part of ships points plainly to the ruin of commercial means of prosperity.
Upon the sounding of the third trumpet "there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, 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 many died of the waters, became they were made bitter." (v. 11) A star is the symbol of authority in government, not supreme (for this is represented by the sun), but subordinate, and one therefore, from the very emblem employed, who should have been the source of light and order to men. But he falls "from heaven," from the place in which he had been set by God (for the powers that be are ordained of God); that is, he is now by his fall dissevered from all connection with God, though he still burns, not as a star, but as a lamp, and thus attracts by his light and radiance. He falls upon and corrupts all the sources, the moral sources, of life, as set forth by the rivers and fountains of waters. Accordingly his name indicates the effects of his action, for a third part of the waters (the sphere and range of his influence) become wormwood, bitter and poisonous to those who drink of them, and consequently many die. (Compare Deuteronomy 29:18; Proverbs 5:4.) An illustration of such an effect may often be seen when one who has been prominent in the church of God becomes unfaithful or apostate, and morally destroys his hearers by infidel teachings. In manifold ways it is possible for those who have fallen from high places, whether amongst men or in the church, to poison the sources of life, and it is just this that will take place on a grand scale, alas! at the fall of the star Wormwood.
It is the governments of the earth that are affected by the sound of the fourth trumpet (v. 12), and no form of it escapes; for, as before pointed out, the sun is a symbol of supreme authority, the moon of that which is derived from the supreme, even as the moon derives her light from the sun and reflects it, while the stars as plainly speak of that which is subordinate. Sun, moon, and stars, therefore, are an expression of every order of human authority in government. Again, the "third part" appears in these judgments; that is, they are as yet confined to the Roman earth, to its western empire; and the effect is, that confusion and darkness reign instead of peace and security. Little do men apprehend how much they are indebted to orderly and stable governments. It is only in insurrectionary or revolutionary periods, when thrones are overturned and lawless passions reign supreme, that they learn the value of the priceless blessings, which, in a human sense, are connected with the maintenance of sovereign and righteous rule. Hence the striking language here employed to designate the dire consequences of the overturning in judgment of "the powers that be." "The day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise that is, as another has said, "Not only the public course of things was cast into confusion and darkness — the day in sunlight darkened, but the more private and hidden life of man lost the light that guided it."
A division occurs between the first four trumpets and the last three, and this is marked by the last verse of this chapter. "And I beheld, and heard an angel* flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice. Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth, by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound." (v. 13.) As this solemn proclamation (if it be not denunciation) forms the introduction to the last three trumpets, comment upon it may be reserved for the next chapter. The judgments following upon the first four trumpets have covered the whole of symbolic creation. The earth, trees, grass, the sea, rivers, fountains of waters, and the celestial bodies, all have been smitten — proof of the unparalleled character of the sorrows and trials which will compose what is termed "the great tribulation," "the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." (Rev. 3:10.) But when God arises to judgment, if men repent not, He will vindicate His name and authority with ever-increasing severity; and hence we find that, terrible as the first four trumpets have been, they are surpassed in their judicial terror by the three "woe" trumpets yet to be sounded.
*There can scarcely be a doubt that "eagle" should be here substituted for "angel."
THE last verse of the preceding chapter, as before stated, belongs, and is introductory, to this chapter. Four of the seven trumpets have already been sounded; and now John is permitted to see in vision the herald of the remaining three which are yet to sound.* He beheld an eagle — for this is the true reading — flying through the midst of heaven, proclaiming a threefold woe upon the inhabiters of the earth, by reason of the coming voices of the trumpets.
*It is a characteristic of the sevens in this book, that they are divided into fours and threes, or threes and fours. Compare the division of the parables in Matthew 13.
The "inhabiters of the earth" is a moral expression, as in Rev. 3:10,* indicating a class; those whose hearts and hopes are set upon earth, those who, in the language of the apostle Paul, mind earthly things. The judgments following upon the preceding trumpets, if the interpretation given of "the third part of the earth" be correct, are confined to the west, whereas these, at least the fifth and sixth, fall upon the east; and this fact sustains the moral significance of the term, dwellers upon earth. It will, moreover, be seen at a glance, that the judgments of the "woe" trumpets are of a very different character from those already passed under review. This will be more clearly apprehended as we proceed.
*The words are the same, though differently translated.
We read then, first of all, that "the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit." (v. 1.) The symbolism of a star has been explained in connection with Rev. 8:10; it means generally some subordinate authority or power, one that should be the means of light and order for the earth. It is evident in this case that he becomes, if he had not been directly so before, a Satanic agent for the infliction, by God's permission, of torment upon the class delivered into his hands. The key of the bottomless pit ("the pit of the abyss") is given (by whom is not said) to him. We learn from the gospel of Luke, that this is the place which demons shunned to enter (Rev. 8:31), and this at once gives the clue to its character. If the four previous judgments were providential, though inflicted judicially by God, this, while still under God's control, is diabolical in its origin and nature. Thus, on the bottomless pit being opened, "there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace: and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power." (vv. 2, 3.) What the smoke exactly represents it may be difficult to say, but its source and effect are manifest. It comes from the abyss, from hell, and it obscures the sun and the air, shuts man off from all that is needful for his moral and spiritual welfare. It is thus Satan's smoke today that darkens the word of God from the souls of men, who, breathing it instead of the pure influences of the Scriptures, become morally poisoned and tormented; and this enables us to understand the effect of the smoke here in darkening the sun and the air.
Remark, moreover, that the locusts come out of the smoke upon the earth; they originate with, or are produced by, the smoke. The prophet Joel gives us figuratively an insight into the terrible nature of the judgment God can inflict with the actual locusts. Today there is no scourge more feared in the east and in some parts of Africa, and none before which man is more entirely impotent. Every green thing is often devoured, and so dense are the masses in which they move when they fly, that sun and sky (as with the smoke in this chapter) are entirely obscured. This will explain the use of the figure here, and allows us, at the same time, more readily to conceive the character of the visitation indicated by these moral locusts that have come out of the abyss.
Their power is limited; for we read, "It was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads." (v. 4.) Two things are determined by this command; first, that, as before stated, they are moral, and not real, locusts, because it is precisely the herbage and trees of the earth that the natural locusts ravage; and, secondly, that the object of this awful visitation is apostate Jews. We learn from Rev. 7 that the servants of God, who were to be sealed in their foreheads, are the elect of the twelve tribes, and accordingly those not sealed would be Jews outside of this elect number. And from the subsequent unfoldings of this book, it is very evident that the location of these unsealed Jews will be, for the most part, if not entirely, in Jerusalem and Palestine. This fact, and it is of great significance, indicates both the sphere and the character of the judgment. It is, in other words, Jewish in its sphere, and is confined to Jews.*
*Through missing these points, those who have adopted what is termed the historical method of interpretation, contend that the plague here spoken of was realized in the invasion of Europe by the Saracens and Mohammedans; while others of the same school would combine Popery with the Saracenic visitation. That this moral plague had some correspondence with the language of our chapter few would deny; that it is its entire fulfilment, none who accept its application to apostate Jews in Palestine could for one moment admit. Besides, the locusts of our chapter had no power to kill, whereas slaughter, and that of immense numbers, was especially that which characterized the Mahommedan inroads and conquests.
The next two verses (vv. 5, 6) give the nature, duration, and effect of this judgment. The "locusts" were not permitted to kill, only to torment, and this for the space of five months.* The effect of the torment is that the subjects of it become weary of their lives, desire to die, but death flees from them. Death would be a relief from their agony, but, suffering by God's appointment, covet it as they may, they are not permitted to find it. This torment is caused by the "locusts," for "their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man." Of the nature of this, whether mental or otherwise, we are not told; but if, as we conclude, these "locusts" are diabolical agents, the seat of the torment would be in the soul rather than in the body.
*For those who favour the application of this prophecy to the Saracens, it is necessary to adopt the "year-day" theory in explaining the five months; i.e., taking a day to represent a year, the five months are extended to the period of one hundred and fifty years; and this, it is affirmed, corresponds with the period of the Saracenic domination. Unfortunately for the upholders of this view, the year-day theory finds no support whatever in this book.
The shapes, appearance, armour, etc., of the locusts are now given. (vv. 7-10.) They were like warhorses prepared unto battle, kingly in their dignity, for "on their heads were as it were crowns like gold"; together with the faces of men, they had the hair of women, and the teeth of lions; they had breastplates as it were of iron, "and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle." The historical interpreters, to whom allusion has been made, love to see in all this description a faithful photograph of the Saracenic armies; and if the inroad of these hordes in the seventh and eighth centuries were even a partial fulfilment, which became a shadow of the entire realization, of this prophetic vision, there might be some foundation for this contention. But those who have a truer insight into the nature of the Apocalypse will rather see in this detailed description the moral features which will characterize the work and activities of this legion of Satan in their cruel and judicial mission. The following words will explain this to the reader: "They had the semblance of military, imperial power, crowned, and with masculine energy, to those that met them; but they were, if seen behind and the secret disclosed, subject and weak: their faces were as the faces of men, their hair as the hair of women. But they were armed with a steeled conscience."* Rapidity in execution would seem to be indicated by the sound of their wings.
*Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, vol. v.
Then after calling attention to the fact that their sting was in their tails, and repeating that their commission to hurt men was limited to five months, John reveals that their king and leader is the angel of the bottomless pit (the abyss), and that his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, in Greek Apollyon. In both languages the meaning is nearly the same — the former being — Destruction, the latter Destroyer. Satan's chief angel, the angel of the abyss, governs this destructive army; and the vengeance wielded falls on those who bear the name of the people of God (Jews), but who now, alas! have become apostates. It is under Satan's wiles and temptations that they have fallen from their high estate; and now he, whose servants they have become, is their vindictive enemy and tormentor. So is it always when by his diabolical ingenuity he succeeds in entrapping his prey, even though he be but a blind instrument to execute the just judgment of God.
The declaration is now made that the first woe is past and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter [after these things]. (v. 12.) Thereupon "the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an" (it should be the) "hour, and a day, and a month, and a year,* for to slay the third part of men." (vv. 13-15.) The golden altar is that mentioned in Rev. 8:3, the altar of incense; and the voice that proceeds from its four horns is, without doubt, that of God Himself; and coming out, as it does, from the four horns will signify that all the strength of the altar (a horn is an emblem of power) is against the objects of the succeeding woe, and this probably, as in chapter 8, in answer to the prayers of saints. All that God is, is in favour of His people who approach Him through Christ; but all that God is, is against His adversaries, and is seen to be so when He causes His judgments to fall upon the earth.
*Rendering the hour instead of an hour, the indefinite article before day, month, and year should be omitted.
The mention of the river Euphrates shows that this "woe" takes its rise from the east, and, inasmuch as the "third part" reappears here, falls upon the Roman empire in the east. The first four trumpets concerned the western empire; the fifth, apostate Jews in Palestine; and now the sixth deals with the eastern Roman empire, showing that there is order and method in the judgments. Four angels are the instrumentality of this woe. The reader will remember that angels are the administrators of God's providential government; and we thus gather that this "woe" will spring up apparently from human causes, that God's hand will not be made bare in it, though, as this scripture teaches, the source of all that leads to it is in heaven. Unbelief will discover nothing in it apart from man; but faith will connect all with God.
Observe, moreover, that the exact time of this "woe" has been divinely fixed. The angels are prepared for the hour, day, month, and year. What a striking proof of the fact that God ever holds the reins of governments in His own hand, and that nothing can be done by man without His permission! How quietly then the believer may rest at all times!
The angels are loosed, and an army appears. The angels are God's providential agents. The army is expressive of man's power — man acting, it may be, solely from the lust of conquest, and yet, at the same time, the executor of God's judicial will. It is an immense host — 200,000,000; and the weapons of their warfare are fire, smoke, and brimstone, emblems of God's direct judgment, which issue out of their horses' mouths — while their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads — portraying Satanic vengeance. The heads of the horses, moreover, were as the heads of lions. The whole imagery sets forth God's judgment, executed, however, through Satan's craft and power, portending an unparalleled woe. The effect is, that "the third part of men" are "killed by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone." (v. 18.) And it would seem, from the general statement in verse 19, that with their tails "they do hurt," that others, if not killed, fall under the direct influence of this terrible judgment.
What then does this vision of judgment shadow forth? The interpreters of the historical school answer at once, "The irruption of the Turks into the eastern Roman empire in the fifteenth century." It is quite true that this event happened, and that, coming from near the Euphrates as the Turks did, it might have been, as in the case of the Saracens, a shadow of the fulfilment of this prophecy. With the view taken of this book in these pages, with its divinely-given threefold division, the Turkish subjugation of the Roman eastern empire could be nothing more than an adumbration of this "woe"; for its real fulfilment can only take place after the rapture of the church. Premising this, it is quite possible that hordes from the East might in the future, as in the past, be the instruments of this divine vengeance — vengeance poured out upon a godless and a God-denying atheistical empire. The saints of that day will then discover whence the chastisement proceeds, and understand its real object and character as depicted in the written Word.
The chapter concludes with an account of the hardened condition of those who "were not killed by these plagues." They "repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornications, nor of their thefts." (vv. 20, 21.) What a commentary upon the hardened heart of man under the control of Satan! God's judgments had been before their eyes. They had seen their fellows swept away from the earth by "these plagues"; but their conscience, seared as with a hot iron, was untouched. God had spoken, and warned. but they were utterly deaf to His solemn voice.
Remark, too, the awful moral condition that will characterize the people of this day. God is refused, idols are accepted in His place; all ties between man and man are broken, and the flesh runs riot in every kind of abominable sin. And this is the issue of modern progress and civilization, of perfected methods of education, of enlightened laws for the improved government and reformation of society! For let it be remembered that this revived Roman empire, the sphere of this "woe," will be the expression of man's highest ideal, the issue in this world of all his strivings after the "perfectibility of the race." Behold then the result!
REVELATION 10 - 11.
SIX out of the seven trumpets have sounded; and now there is an interval before the announcement of the third woe which is heralded by the seventh and last trumpet. It follows that chapter 10 to 11:14 is parenthetical. There is a similar interval between the sixth and seventh seals, with, as often noticed, a slight difference. The events depicted between the sixth and seventh seals are preparatory to the latter, whereas those contained in the parenthesis between the last two trumpets are connected rather with, and supplementary to, the sixth trumpet. This may be seen from the fact that it is not until Rev. 11:14 that the proclamation is made: "The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly."
There are two subjects dealt with in the parenthetical scripture now under consideration; first, the action of the "mighty angel" in Rev. 10, and the state of the temple and of Jerusalem, together with the testimony of the two witnesses, as given in Rev. 11:1-14.
John says as to the former: "And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon. his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire." (v. 1) Such is the personal description of this mighty angel, a description which, in several of its details, points us to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is clothed with a cloud. A cloud is often connected with the divine presence, and hence with our Lord. This may be seen in the New Testament as well as constantly in the Old. On the mount of transfiguration a cloud overshadowed both Him and His disciples (Matt. 17; Luke 9); and when He ascended up into heaven a cloud received Him out of the sight of His own. (Acts 1) When also He returns to the earth, He will come in the clouds of heaven. (Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1. 7.) In Rev. 4 the rainbow is round about the divine throne; here it is upon the angel's head, and the rainbow is the symbol of God's everlasting covenant with the earth. (Genesis 9:12, 13.) None, therefore, but a Divine Person could wear the rainbow on His head. The last two characteristics, "His face was as it were the sun, and His feet as pillars of fire," are almost exactly the same as those given in Rev. 1:15, 16. There cannot be a doubt, therefore, as to the identification of this mighty angel with Christ.
In His hand there was a little book open. It is not a sealed book as in Rev. 5, the contents of which could not be known until the seals were broken, but an open book, the contents of which were already known, referring, doubtless, to the fact that the action of Christ in taking possession of the earth and the sea (and all represented by the earth and the sea), as symbolized by His right foot on the sea, and His left foot on the earth, had already been made known through prophetic writings. (See, for example, Psalm 72; Isaiah 11:25:60; Zechariah 14, and numberless scriptures.)
Having set one foot on the sea, and the other upon the earth, He "cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when He had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices." (v. 3.) The subject of this cry is concealed; for when John was about to write what the seven thunders had uttered, he was commanded to "seal up the things he had heard, and not to write them." (vv. 3, 4.) But from the imagery employed it is not difficult to discern that the cry of Christ, and the voices of the seven thunders, were expressive of His wrath, indignation, and righteous judgment; for, as we know from various scriptures, it is in anger, righteous anger, that He will come and deal with the man of the earth. (Cp. Isa. 2, Isa. 26:20, 21, Isa. 42:13; Joel 3:16, etc.)
The next three verses explain the significance of the action described in verse 2: "And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up His hand to heaven, and sware by Him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer:* but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as He hath declared to His servants the prophets." (vv. 5-7.)
*The word rendered time in this clause is chronos, which means "time," but also "a certain definite time, a while, period, season;" and hence, taken in its connection in this passage, should be translated as in the margin of the Revised Version, and as in the text of the New Translation, "delay." It should therefore read thus, "That there should be no longer delay."
Whether taken symbolically or literally, the action of the mighty angel (the Lord Himself) in setting one foot on the sea, and the other upon the earth, whether, that is, the actual sea and earth are meant, or whether they are figures of "the flowing masses of the people," and of the ordered governments of the earth, the significance is the same. It is Christ come down, after His long season of patience at the right hand of God, to take possession of His rightful inheritance. (See Matt. 28:18; 1 Cor. 15:24-28; Heb. 2, etc.) It is to be observed also, that He takes possession, though He has acquired the title through His redemption work, in virtue of the sovereign rights of the Creator. Hence it is that, lifting up His hand to heaven, He swears by the eternal God, the universal Creator. It is creation's Lord who has bestowed the title, and now He comes to make it good, and accordingly declares that there shall be no longer delay, but that all the judgments, "the mystery of God" which concerns His dealing with the world between the first resurrection and the appearing of Christ in glory, should now be completed, in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, as preparatory to His coming in the clouds of heaven, when every eye shall see Him, to establish His sovereignty over the whole earth.
John is now commanded to take the little book that was open (or opened) in the hand of the angel that was standing upon the sea, and upon the earth. The contents of the opened book are to become the subject of John's testimony as to* peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings. But if God sends His servant to prophesy, He will first qualify him for his service; and thus John must first "eat" the book (compare Ezekiel 3:1-3), he must appropriate and digest these divine communications before he can rightly communicate them to others. A lesson surely for God's servants in all ages. Notice, too, that while in the mouth the book should be sweet as honey, it should make John's belly bitter. So it ever is. How sweet is it to our taste when God communicates some new truth to us! We rejoice in it as those who have discovered hidden treasure; but all truth is death to the natural man, and accordingly when it is applied inwardly in the power of the Holy Ghost, we find it bitter in its working and effects. It is only after the truth has thus been made our own by inward application, that we can be taken up and used to testify of it to others. To attempt to "prophesy" before we have "eaten" and "digested" will only be to discover our nakedness in the presence of the enemy. This is the history of many who have made shipwreck as to the faith.
*The word translated "before" in verse 11 should be "as to." It is epi followed by the dative.
THE TWO WITNESSES.
In the next place there was given to John "a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months." (vv. 1, 2.) Everything betokens here that we are now transferred to Jerusalem; for we read of the temple of God, the altar, the court, and the holy city. The mention too of the Gentiles, the nations in contrast with the Jews, points to the same conclusion, as well as the fact of their domination over the holy city. (Compare Luke 21:24.) The object of it is to show the state of that temple (where God's heart and eyes were perpetually to be) and of that city which He had chosen, on the eve of the final judgment, and of the Lord's return to it in glory. (See Matthew 23:37-39.)
But John is commanded to measure, with the reed given to him the temple, the altar, and them that worship therein. The temple, inasmuch as the events of this chapter concern the period after the church is gone and before the Lord's appearing, must be that which will be built by the Jews, while in unbelief, after their return to their own land. We find, nevertheless, that there is a true remnant in the midst of the corrupt nation; and measuring the temple, the altar, and the worshippers will signify that they are owned of and, it may be, appropriated, or claimed by God. The word temple is that used of the house itself, including the holy place and the holiest; not the word sometimes employed, which indicates the whole of the sacred buildings, together with the court, etc. As a matter of fact, the worshippers had no access into the holy place; but we are taught here that God regarded them as belonging to it, even though they could not enter, and that thus the remnant are really invested before Him with a priestly character. How precious in the eyes of God are this believing residue, who, resisting all the seductions and temptations by which they are surrounded, and incurring thereby the hostility and persecution of the Gentile power which will be at this time supreme in Jerusalem, cleave in all fidelity to the God of their fathers, and, though in the deepest distress, wait only upon God for deliverance.
The court without the temple was to be left out — rejected; that is, the mass of the nation, whatever their profession (for they will have, in the last days, fallen again into idolatry), are refused. Another will have come in his own name, whom they will have received. (John 5:43.) They will have accepted Antichrist in the place of their own Messiah, who had been crucified by their fathers on Calvary. On this account the court — a figure of the unbelieving nation, for it will be the place of their "worship" — is given unto the Gentiles; and they will also tread the holy city under foot forty and two months. Later on we shall see the signification of this period — but the reader will do well to remember it, as it forms the key to the concluding prophetic events of Scripture.
The following paragraph, from verse 3 to 13, concerns the remarkable apparition of the two witnesses. We must enquire, first of all, what is exactly indicated by the two witnesses. It must be remembered that we move in this book in the midst of symbols; and it might be, on this account, two companies of witnesses, if they are not two individuals. The point, however, to be seized lies, doubtless, in the number, two being ever the number of adequate testimony.* There will always be then, during this time of Satan's greatest display if power before the eyes of God's professing people (the Jews), an adequate testimony for God and His claims.
*This is strikingly seen in the Gospel of Matthew, where we have two demoniacs (Matt. 8), two blind men (Matt. 9), etc., because in this gospel it is a question of sufficient, or adequate, testimony to Israel.
The next thing to be noted is the duration of their prophetic testimony. It will be a thousand two hundred and sixty days. In the previous verse we read of a period of forty-two months, during which the holy city will be trodden under foot of the Gentiles. The two periods coincide, both being exactly three years and a half.* It will suffice here to say, as the subject must be more fully gone into when chapter 13 is reached, that this three years and a half are the last half of Daniel's seventieth week (Daniel 9:25-27), the period of Antichrist's frightful sway in Jerusalem with the support and shelter of all the power of the last head of the Roman empire; the period, at the close of which Christ will come in glory, and consume that wicked one with the spirit of His mouth, and destroy him with the brightness of His coming. (2 Thess. 2:8.) Throughout this period of unequalled sorrow the two witnesses will courageously raise their voices, and be clothed in sackcloth, expressive of the sorrowful nature of their work owing to the character of the times in which they are found. Apart from all around, mourning over the fearful apostasy of the beloved nation, and rejected by all, sackcloth is but a fitting emblem of their testimony.
*As before pointed out, and as may be easily proved from Scripture, there is no foundation whatever for the year-day theory; i.e., for taking the 1260 days to mean so many years.
We are now told what they are: "These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God* of the earth." (v. 4.) The connection between this description and that given in Zechariah 4 is apparent, and will afford the clue to the interpretation. As another has said, "They bear witness to the order and blessing of the Jewish state when Messiah shall reign; but they are not in that state. Not a candlestick with two olive trees (as in Zechariah), but two candlesticks and two olive trees. But they are before the God of the earth."† They are anointed ones, for they are olive trees, and they thus testify in the power of the Holy Spirit. They are the two candlesticks, etc.; their testimony therefore is the light from God amid the darkness of that day. And standing before the Lord of the earth shows that the subject of their testimony is the claims of the coming Messiah as the rightful Lord of the earth. (Cp. Joshua 3:11) Moreover, they are two anointed ones; and this also points, in addition to the power of their testimony, to the fact that it is as King and Priest — a Priest upon His throne, Melchisedec — that Christ will come and take possession.‡
*The more generally accepted reading is "Lord."
† Collected Writings of J. N. D., vol. ii., Expository.
‡If any desire to enter more fully into this subject they may read "Zechariah the Prophet," chapter 4.
What follows is easily apprehended. If anyone hurts them, fire will proceed out of their mouth and devour him. (Compare 2 Kings 1) As Elijah of old, they will have power to shut up heaven that it shall not rain. Like Moses, they will have power to turn the waters into blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues as often as they will. (vv. 5, 6.) After their testimony is finished, not before, the beast that ascendeth out of the abyss — the last head of the Roman empire — will be permitted to kill them. (v. 7.) Then their dead bodies will lie in the street of Jerusalem (now, alas! spiritually Sodom and Egypt) "where also our Lord was crucified," and where they will be a spectacle to peoples, and kindreds, and tongues, and nations, for three days and a half. They also that dwell upon the earth (the reader will remember the moral force of this expression) will, in their folly and imaginary triumph, make every demonstration of joy over the death of those who had tormented them. (vv. 7-10.)
God now steps into the scene, and raises His dead witnesses. "And they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud: and their enemies beheld them." (vv. 11, 12.) What a revolution! And how short-lived the triumph of these foolish worldlings! Nor is this all; for judgment descends "the same hour" upon that poor guilty city, and "the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand." (v. 13.) The remnant are affrighted, and give glory, not to the Lord of the earth, but to the God of heaven. They still refuse the testimony of the witnesses. The proclamation is now made, "The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly." (v. 14.)
THE THIRD WOE.
We find the significance of the seventh trumpet in Rev. 10, where we read, "In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as He hath declared to His servants the prophets." Accordingly here, immediately on the sounding of the seventh angel, "there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ;* and He shall reign for ever and ever." (v. 15.) That is to say, the end is now in a general way reached, and the announcement is made in heaven, that Christ has at length interposed, and assumed His sovereignty over the earth. There are many details and fuller instruction yet to be given, but the time of which prophets had prophesied, and saints of past ages had longed for and anticipated, has now come. The very appellations used — our Lord and His Christ — mark the period indicated. It is that of the second Psalm, wherein, in face of the rage of the heathen, and the vain imagination of the people, when "the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His anointed [His Christ], saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us," the Lord, "laughing" at their vain impotence, will "speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure." He will, at the same, announce, "Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion."
*This has been more accurately rendered, "The kingdom of the world of our Lord and His Christ is come." The Revised Version gives it, "The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ."
Such is the event proclaimed in heaven on the sounding of the seventh angel; for Zion will be the seat of the government of the Lord's Christ; from thence Jehovah will send out the rod of His strength, and, ruling in the midst of His enemies, He will reign for ever and ever, until He hath put all foes under His feet. (See Psalm 110; Luke 2:30-33, etc.)
But why, the question may be asked, should the setting up of the kingdom of Christ in this world be termed a "woe"? The class for whom it will he a "woe" is specified in Rev. 8:13; it is for "the inhabiters of the earth," not exactly, as has been more than once explained, for the inhabitants of the earth, but for those whose desires and affections are bounded by this world, those who make their home in it, who are therefore morally dwellers upon earth, and who, as such, are enemies of God and His Christ. Truly speaking, every unconverted soul belongs to this class now, and so will it be when the Lord returns to earth and takes His kingdom — all the unconverted will form the inhabiters of the earth. And for them the reign of Christ will bring unmitigated woe, for a sceptre of righteousness will be the sceptre of His kingdom; and thus it is that His arrows will be sharp in the heart of the King's enemies, and the peoples will fall under Him. Can anything be sadder than the thought, that the event which will inaugurate an era of peace and blessing for this poor world will constitute nothing but woe for the dwellers upon earth?
This, however, will explain to us the contrariety between heaven and earth that follows. The moment the declaration is made that Christ has established His world-sovereignty, "the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats [thrones], fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come;* because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. And the nations were angry," etc. (vv. 16-18.) What a contrast! That which causes joy in heaven produces anger upon earth. The nations are angry; for they have usurped the power belonging to God, thrown off His yoke, and now will be made to know that they are amenable to the authority of Him, who will smite through kings in the day of His wrath, who will judge among the heathen, fill the places with the dead bodies, and wound the heads over many countries. The elders, on the other hand, have the mind of God; they have had His patience in the presence of Satan's power, and of the evils which have corrupted the earth; they had known what it was to have fellowship with a rejected Christ, and now they rejoice with full hearts that God has stepped in, asserted His rights, and vested the sovereignty of the earth in the hands of His Christ. The Lamb that was in the midst of the throne is now the exalted One on the earth; and all kings must fall down before Him, and all nations must serve Him; and the hearts of the elders, charged to overflowing with heaven's joy, express their gladness in thanksgivings and worship before God.
*This clause "art to come" should be omitted
A few points in connection with the elders may be noticed. We are again reminded that they sat on their thrones before God. It is not so much that they were sitting there at this moment, although they were doing so, as that their place in the presence of God is thus indicated. It is characteristic; the elders occupied thrones before God. What a view is in this way afforded of the exaltation of the glorified saints! Grouped around the Eternal Presence, and seated themselves on thrones — for they are kings as well as priests — they are spectators, adoring spectators, of God's ways in the government of the earth. It will also be observed that they worship God as revealed in the Old Testament; viz., as Lord God Almighty (Jehovah Elohim Shaddai), and for the reason that it is now the question of God's kingdom on earth" because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned." The words "and art to come," as already said, are to be omitted, and this is significant. No doubt the eternity of God is expressed in the threefold phrase" which art, and wast, and art to come" — present, past, and future. But when used in reference, as here, to the earth, the kingdom, the future is, so to speak, merged in the present, for He has come and taken to Himself His great power. (Cp. Rev. 1:8.)
The effect of the assumption of the sovereignty of the world by the Christ of God is then given by the elders: "And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth." (v. 18.) It is a general, and only a general, statement of the consequences of the establishment of the kingdom in power, and thus reaches down even to its close, inasmuch as it is not until then that the dead will be judged. (See Rev. 20) There are three things specified; first, the anger of the nations, and this may include the gathering together of the kings of the earth, with their armies, under the leadership of the beast (Rev. 19:19) to make war against Christ as He comes from heaven with His army, and the nations from the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, gathered together by Satan at the close of the thousand years (Rev. 20:7-9); secondly, the wrath of God, as seen in judging the dead, and in destroying them which destroyed the earth; and lastly, blessing in giving reward to His servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to them that fear His name, both small and great. This is not the heavenly blessing of the church, of the saints of this dispensation. In this scene they are already on high, and they, with all indeed who share in the first resurrection, will come forth with Christ when He takes His kingdom; but the reward here spoken of is for the kingdom for the saints on earth in the kingdom. That there are special rewards also for other saints in the kingdom is quite true, only the specification here of "prophets, saints, and those that fear thy name" would seem rather to mark out earthly and not heavenly saints.
The third woe has now been inflicted. The first was characterized by Satan's power, and its subjects were apostate Jews; the second was human in its instrumentality, and this was visited upon the Roman empire; the last is emphatically God's woe, and it falls upon the nations in general, inasmuch as it is connected with the setting up of Messiah's kingdom.
It may aid the reader to point out that in this last woe, the end of the forty-two months, or the 1260 days (Rev. 11:2, 3), i.e., the prophetic half week of this book, concluding the seventy weeks of Daniel's prophecy (Dan. 9:25-27) has been reached; and that thus, as to time, it coincides with Rev. 19:11-16. The succeeding chapters must not therefore be read as following consecutively in the history; for, as pointed out, we have now arrived at the terminus, the kingdom of Christ established. Details are afterwards given, fuller developments, specific instruction as to many events, the inflictions of still severer judgments, and, above all, the direct connection of heaven with what transpires on earth, together with the divine interest expressed and manifested towards those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ, those who, amid general apostasy, are found faithful, not loving their lives unto the death.
THIS chapter really commences with the last verse of that preceding. The temple of God was opened in heaven, and in it the ark of His covenant is seen. This indicates at once that Israel is coming into view, and that God is about to renew His dealings with His people on the basis of His everlasting covenant. But signs of judgment — lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail are connected with this scene; for it is in judgment that God will proceed to establish His covenant and restore His people to His favour and blessing — judgment upon His enemies, and also upon His people. (See Psalms 83, 94, 97; Isaiah 66; Zechariah 12 - 14, etc.) There are thus judgments here proceeding from above, and convulsions below, which will precede the making of the new covenant with the house of Israel of which Jeremiah speaks. (Jer. 31:31.) Unmingled blessing will fellow.
Coming to the chapter itself, we find in it "a brief but all-important summary of the whole course of events, viewed, not in their instruments on earth or the judgment of these, but the divine view of all the principles at work, the state of things as revealed of God." This important and comprehensive sentence, if rightly understood, will unfold to the reader the means of solving all the symbols of the chapter. It may further assist, if it is pointed out that the sphere of these "wonders" and visions is "in heaven." (See vv. 1, 3, 7, 10.) First seen there, and seen according to God, divine intelligence will be possessed for the exposition of the events on earth which the visions shadow forth.
In the first place, "There appeared a great wonder 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 pained to be delivered." (vv. 1. 2.) There is no difficulty whatever in identifying the woman with Israel, but with Israel as it appears in the purpose of God. It must be remembered also that Jerusalem is often taken in Scripture as the expression of the people, and hence it is that she is continually regarded as the earthly bride. But when so viewed, it is always as standing for the whole nation. (See Gal. 4:25; Isaiah 49:13-26.) Three things mark her. First, she is clothed with the sun. The sun, as has been seen before, is an emblem of the fount of supreme authority, in accordance with the place assigned to it in creation. It is the "greater light to rule the day." (Gen. 1) Israel therefore is here seen as invested with supreme earthly authority. Even in the days of the kingdom, God dwelt between the cherubim; it was there in the temple that He had His earthly throne; and in the days yet to come Messiah's throne will be in Jerusalem, and from thence He will govern the nations upon earth. (Isaiah 60) Secondly, the moon is under her feet. Two things characterize the moon; she is the lesser light to rule the night, and her light is derived and reflected from the sun. We are therefore plainly pointed back, by this symbol, to the glory possessed by Israel under the first covenant. All the light she had in former days, and there was no light elsewhere upon earth, was derived from the presence of Jehovah in her midst, and from the sacred oracles committed to her care. The moon thus fittingly symbolizes this her past glory, and is now seen, in the presence of the splendours of the sun (compare Isaiah 60:20), as under her feet. Finally, she is crowned with twelve stars; that is, she has also the glory of perfect administration in man, which is the symbolic significance of the number twelve, Our Lord thus said to His disciples, "Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matt. 19:28.) It is needless to add that Israel has never yet corresponded on earth to this divine portraiture; but "in heaven" God has always seen her arrayed in this perfect beauty. So in the wilderness of old, whatever the state of things in the camp, the seven lights of the golden candlestick were ever burning in their perfection, and the twelve loaves of the continual showbread, covered with their pure frankincense, were at all times duly ordered in the holy place before the Lord. It is an immense encouragement to turn away from the actual state of things, whether in Israel or in the church, and to contemplate both the one and the other as they are seen in all their perfection in the purposes of God. (Compare Numbers 23, 24)
We have next the circumstances of the woman — travailing in birth; but before the birth of the man-child another wonder is seen in heaven: "Behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born." (vv. 3, 4.) This dragon, the enemy of God and His Christ, is declared to be "that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan" (v. 9); but he is viewed here as identified with the revived Roman empire. This is seen in two ways: his colour is red, not purple, which is specially the imperial colour, but red here because presented under a persecuting, sanguinary aspect; and he has seven heads and ten horns, the same as the beast in the next chapter. (v. 1.) It is, moreover, distinctly declared that "the dragon gave him [the beast] his power, and his seat, and great authority." (Rev. 13:2.) Here therefore the source is unveiled, and Satan himself is presented as possessing all that he afterwards bestows upon man in government. (Compare Luke 4:5-7.) The seven crowned or diademed heads are forms of power, and, taking the number seven in its usual significance, it will portend that as to these there is completeness. But he has only ten horns, administrative instrumental powers, and, since twelve is the number of perfect government in man, he is, as to these, incomplete. The next thing stated is, that his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the ground. That is to say, in his progress, or march, to supremacy on the earth in the form of the Roman empire, his masterpiece of craft and energy in the last half-week, he overthrows, casts down, all the subordinate powers that had existed in the area of the "third part," in order to substitute the absolute power and despotism of the imperial head, as seen in the first beast of the next chapter.
All this description is introductory to the position of the dragon here exhibited: he stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. We thus learn that Satan knew of the promised seed, the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent's head, of the expected advent of David's Son and David's Lord, the One who would reign until all enemies should be subdued; and that, in his enmity to God and man, he lay in wait to destroy the true Heir as soon as He might appear. In the gospels we have the record of the manner in which he sought to compass his ends. Through Herod he endeavoured to destroy the child Jesus; in the wilderness he attempted to allure Him from the path on which He had entered; he stirred up and evoked the bitter hate of the scribes and Pharisees to accomplish his purpose; and, finally, he succeeded in banding together Jew and Gentile, all the factions of Judaism with their oppressors, high and low, rich and poor, every form of earthly power; and the Object of his malice was condemned to die, and was crucified. Apparently the dragon had devoured the Child; but, as every believer knows, what seemed to be Satan's triumph became the means of his everlasting disgrace and defeat. It was God who had triumphed, having made the wrath of man to praise Him, and having bound the "dragon" to the chariot wheels of His eternal purposes of grace and mercy in and through the redemption wrought out by means of the death of His beloved Son.
The frustration of Satan's object is now related: "And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up unto God, and to His throne." (v. 5.) How entirely all here concerns the earth is seen from the fact, that no mention whatever is made of the church period: the kingdom alone is specified. If Christ is born, it is to rule all nations with a rod of iron, according to Ps. 2 and Ps. 110. The cross is not even mentioned, although we know it preceded His being caught up unto God and to His throne.
Christ then has now been born into the world, and, Satan having proved his powerlessness against the Lord's Anointed, He has been caught up, raised from the dead, and has been set in the place of power at God's right hand. The next verse goes on to a time after the church period — the last half-week of prophecy, which immediately precedes the introduction of the kingdom of Christ on the earth. Not only therefore is Christ in this scene on high, but the church also, if not mentioned, has been caught up; and this is proved, as will afterwards be explained, by verse 10. In the mind of God then the church is included in Christ, being caught up, seen, as it were, in Him; so that now, as pointed out (and the reader should pay especial attention to it), Christ has the church with Himself above. The heavenly saints are thus, even as Christ was, snatched away from Satan's rage; for in truth he was and is as powerless against them as against Christ Himself. (See Matthew 16:18; Romans 8:31-39.)
The Child was caught away, but the woman was left behind, and, as so left, is also exposed to Satan's enmity. Hence "she fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days." (v. 6.) The woman it must be remembered is Israel — Israel as seen in the purposes of God; and Satan, having been disappointed in his rage against Christ, turns only all the more fiercely against God's beloved people. But God cares for Israel, even as He had cared for the "Man-child"; and in His providence He watches over, protects, provides for, and sustains her. Like Elijah of old, she is screened from observation in a place prepared for her in the desert, and she is as miraculously fed during the whole period of Satan's unchecked domination in and through the Roman Empire — the 1260 days.
Another scene in heaven is next recorded: "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." (vv. 7, 8.) That Satan has access into the "heavenly places" is revealed in several scriptures (see especially Ephesians 6:12); and we also know that he ever acts there in opposition to the people of God. (Job 1, 2; Zech. 3:1; Luke 22:31, 32.) It would seem that he takes up there what has been aptly designated an anti-priestly position; that is, instead of interceding for, he accuses the saints, in order to deprive them of blessing and to secure their ruin. It is evident also from this scripture that he has an army of evil angels at his service. Michael and his angels fight against the dragon. The reason that Michael appears on the scene is that Israel is in question as the object of Satan's hostility; for, as we learn from Daniel, Michael is the angelic prince of God's ancient people. (Daniel 10:21.) He is "the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people." (Rev. 12:1.) In Jude he is termed the archangel, and there also he is "contending with the devil," when disputing with him about the body of Moses. As no other archangel is named it would appear that he is the angelic chief; and, from what has been gathered from the Book of Daniel, that his special service is to frustrate the devices of Satan against Israel. This will explain the "war" in heaven as described in our scripture. There could be but one issue to it; and thus "the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan," the evil spirit that deceiveth the whole habitable world, of which he is the prince and the god. He "was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." (v. 9.) He loses now for ever his place in the heavens; and henceforth the scene of his activities is bounded by the habitable world, where he is still permitted, in pursuance of the divine purposes, to be a test for man, until the moment decreed for his own eternal doom.
His expulsion from heaven is celebrated by a loud voice, which John heard, "saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them, before our God day and night." (v. 10.) This loud voice in heaven explains two things; first, that the expulsion of Satan and his angels from heaven was connected with, and preliminary to, the establishment of Christ's kingdom on earth, such being the import, we apprehend, of the words, "Now is come," etc.; and secondly, it gives the justification of the interpretation that the church is regarded as caught up together with the Man-child; for the voice speaks of our brethren whom Satan had accused night and day before God.
The next verse reveals the secret and means of their victory over Satan's efforts. They overcame him by reason of the blood of the Lamb, that precious blood by which they had been redeemed, which had answered all God's claims, and which had made them whiter than snow. Satan could not therefore sustain his accusations, and God could not righteously listen to them, for He beholds no iniquity in those who are under the efficacy of the blood of Christ. The weapon of their conflict was the word of their testimony, the irresistible sword of the Spirit; and their courage was displayed in the fact that they loved not their lives unto the death. So Paul, with the prospect of martyrdom before him, had a desire to depart to be with Christ, which he esteemed to be very much better. What could Satan do with one who had no more conscience of sins, who was armed with the sword of the Spirit, and whose hopes were all outside of this world?
This passage is interesting in another way. The church has been caught up; the Jewish remnant who will come into the place of testimony after the church period is distinguished in the last verse of our chapter, so that these victors, the "our brethren" of verse 10, mark a third class. They are the saints who suffer martyrdom after the rapture of the church, and before the appearing of Christ, who, in addition to those who "had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands," will be added to the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4), and who, therefore, are regarded as heavenly saints — saints of the heavenly places.
The casting of Satan down to earth produces joy in heaven; but it is woe to the earth and the sea;* for, expelled from heaven, he rages all the more violently, and as knowing "that he hath but a short time." (v. 12.) The first object of his wrath is the woman which brought forth the Man-child, on the principle that whatever is God's special object excites his special malice. Verse 14, we judge, is but a restatement, with additions, of verse 6; but we learn now that God gives to the woman the means of escape. For the Christian it is, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you," but for the "woman," having no power of resistance, flight, and means for it, as symbolized by the "two wings of a great eagle," are divinely ordered. (Compare Matt. 24:15-21) Hidden thus in the wilderness, she has "her place," and is nourished, divinely sustained, "for a time, and times, and half a time" (that is, three years and a half, or 1260 days), "from the face of the serpent." (v. 14.) The serpent, baffled in his object, "cast out of his month water as a flood" to overwhelm the "woman"; but the "earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth." (vv. 15, 16.) This symbolism is simple. "Water as a flood," or river, sets forth a disturbed state of the nations, but flowing onward in some special course. The earth, on the other hand, is a figure of organization or ordered government. There was, therefore, a movement of the nations, instigated by Satan, towards the destruction of the "woman," or Israel; but this movement is arrested, under God's providential hand, by the ordered governments of the world, and Israel is secured. Once more baffled, the dragon, "wroth with the woman," goes "to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus." (v. 17.) These are the individual Jews who compose the remnant, the remnant of the Psalms who will be found in Jerusalem and Judea during the last half-week (see Matt. 24), and who are marked by keeping the commandments of God, and having the testimony of Jesus; that is, the spirit of prophecy. (See Rev. 19:10.) They are, therefore, on Old Testament ground, and are characterized by Jewish feelings and Jewish hopes. Such will be the testimony of the remnant of the last days before the return of Christ in glory.
*The words "inhabiters of" have no sufficient authority.
IN the previous chapter the fact of Satan's hostility to the "woman" and her seed is stated: in this the means or the instrumentalities by which he pursues his ends are detailed. They are the two "beasts" who, during Daniel's last half-week, or the 1260 days, will be allowed to exercise their undisputed sway in opposition to God, to His Christ, and to His people. The scene of the visions in the last chapter is in heaven. Here the stand-point of the prophet is the sand of the sea. He writes, "And I stood* upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name† of blasphemy." (v. 1.) If we now turn to the prophet Daniel it will aid us in the interpretation of this vision. He says, "I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another." The first, he tells us, "was like a lion, and had eagle's wings;" the second "like to a bear;" the third like a leopard;" but the fourth was "dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns." We learn, moreover, that this fourth beast will continue until the Ancient of days shall sit; and that, on the beast having been slain, the dominion and glory and kingdom are given to One like the Son of man. (Daniel 7; see also chapter 2) From the same prophet we learn that the first three "beasts" represent the monarchies of Babylon, Persia, and Greece; and we also know from Scripture that the successor of Greece in sovereignty over the prophetic earth is the Roman Empire. Observe, moreover, that this last form of Gentile sovereignty continues until the end; and this enables us at once to identify the first beast of our chapter with Daniel's fourth beast. We also find from verse 2, that this beast of the Apocalypse combines in himself all the characteristics of his three predecessors, for he was "like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion." At the time of John's vision the first three beasts and their kingdoms had for ever passed away. The fourth had come into their place, and had inherited all their characteristic features, as well as their sovereignty.
*Some read, "And he stood," etc. In that case it would refer to the dragon; but the context is, as we judge, in favour of the accepted text.
†The more generally accepted reading is "names."
We may now examine the vision a little more closely. The beast rises up out of the sea, looking back to the origin of the Roman Empire, though seen here in its developed character at the end. The sea is a figure for a disturbed state of the nations, masses of the people in commotion, as, for example, in times of insurrection or revolution. It was out of such a state of things that the Roman dominion had sprung into existence. There has been in modern days a remarkable exemplification of a similar phenomenon. The first Napoleon suddenly emerged into view out of the confusion of a revolutionary period, and very soon asserted his power, and extended his sway over the half of Europe. The difference is only in the fact that in his case it was the sudden rise of a person more like the little horn of Daniel 7; whereas here it was rather the Roman power, although seen at the end incarnated in an individual head.
This beast, the imperial head of the revived Roman Empire, has seven heads, or forms of government, and, as pointed out in Rev. 12, therein completeness; and he has ten horns, on all of which are diadems, indicating the fact repeated again and again (see Daniel 2, 7; also Revelation 17:12), that the dominion of the beast is composed of ten kingdoms, having their respective sovereigns, but allied together in a common federation under his imperial sway.
The moral character of this last representative of Gentile sovereignty is exhibited in one word — he has upon his heads the names of blasphemy. He not only is indifferent to God and His claims, but he is in open and wicked opposition to Him, and avowedly so before the eyes of men. Does anyone wonder that such a monster could be tolerated on the earth? If so, let him remember that a neighbouring country has recently had infidel and atheistic governments; and that, in response to the invitation of such, thousands could rush over from "Christian" England to assist at the commemoration of a revolution which sought to dethrone God and to deify man and the reason of man. Ah, no, men were not shocked; for indeed the course of modern thought and of politics is fast paving the way for the apostasy, and the appearance of these names of blasphemy, adorned, as they will be, with all that which excites the admiration of man as man. The rule of this last Gentile monarch will be the expression of all the preceding monarchies. He will be distinguished by the strength and majesty of the first, the voracity of the second, and the swiftness of the third, added to his own irresistible and relentless power. (See Daniel 7:4-7 with verse 2.)
We have next the source of his dominion unveiled. "And the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority." (v. 2.) He is therefore characterized by Satan's inspiration and energy. Such is the picture presented to us, delineated by an infallible hand, of the last governmental power on the earth, before the coming of Christ to establish His kingdom.
In the following verses we have a brief and figurative description of the resuscitation of the Roman empire, and an account of the place and supremacy of its head during his brief career. "And I saw," says John, "one of his heads, as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world [the whole earth] wondered after the beast." (v. 3.) In Rev. 17 we read, "The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition." (vv. 9-11) Combining these two scriptures, and recalling the fact that the heads are symbols of forms of government, or governing powers ("kings"), the interpretation is not difficult. At the time of the vision five of these governing powers, in the various vicissitudes of the Roman dominion, had passed away; but "one is" said the angel, and that one was the imperial, for Rome then had its emperors. There was, however, another to arise before the advent of the beast, one who, like and perhaps Napoleon I., was to "continue a short space," and then, with what interval we are not told, the beast would appear, an eighth; for Satan ever imitates, and thus even here would dazzle the minds of men by the semblance of a resurrection (of which "eight" is the symbolic number). But while the beast is the eighth, he is yet of the seven, and only, therefore, possesses seven heads. The conclusion from these scriptures is evidently that the "head," wounded as it were to death, was the imperial one, seen too in the fact of the destruction and disappearance of the old Roman empire, which today, and for centuries past, save in the attempt of Napoleon to revive it, has clean gone from human view. When, therefore, we are told that the "deadly wound was healed," it will mean that this imperial form of government will be restored in connection with the beast of our chapter.* It is this unexpected revival that will astonish, and excite the admiration of, "the whole earth."
*These eight heads are often, and probably truly, reckoned thus: (1) Kings, (2) Consuls, (3) Dictators, (4) Decemvirs, (5) Military Tribunes, (6) Caesars, (7) Napoleon I., (8) The Beast out of the abyss. These will include all the governmental heads of the Roman Empire until the appearing of Christ.
Two effects follow, effects awful to contemplate, but none the less certain. First, "they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast." (v. 4.) And who are the "they"? The eighth verse, though speaking there of the beast, answers the question. They are all those who are outside of God's elect saints, elect saints on earth, after the rapture of the church. It will include, therefore, the inhabitants of the prophetic earth, where Christianity was once professed, but who now, because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved, are under a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie." (2 Thess. 2:10, 11) Such is to be the final issue of modern civilization, progress in thought, art, and science — men will pay homage to Satan. It is not only that they will have cast off all fear of God from before their eyes, but they will also enthrone Satan in His place. Secondly, they will likewise worship the beast. They will "worship" him because of his wisdom and power; for so blinded will they be, that they will not be able to discern between what is of Satan and what is of God. Adumbrations of this Satanic delusion are constantly seen, when men prostrate themselves before statesmen, or warriors, on account of their genius, "foresight," and skill in the conduct of affairs. The private lives of the objects of their homage may be never so corrupt, but all is condoned under the influence of their intellectual brilliance.
The character, duration, and exploits of the beast are next given. The reader will remark the repetition of the phrase, there was "given unto him" (vv. 5, 7), a phrase explained by verses 2 and 4, reminding us that not only is the beast's power derived, but also that it was derived from Satan. The time, it must be remembered, is after the church has been caught away, and before the appearing of Christ, an interval during which God will own no power on the earth until He takes His own in the person of the true King. First of all the beast has a mouth "speaking great things and blasphemies." (v. 5.) He will be a boaster, puffed up, like his god Satan, with the sense of his own merits and excellencies; and in his daring impiety he will open "his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, and His tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven." (v. 6.) He cannot rid himself of God, of heaven, or of the heavenly saints, but in the impotence of his rage, exulting in his earthly supremacy, he vents his wicked heart in insolent blasphemies. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have him in derision. In the next place, we find again that the duration of his career will be forty and two months — the 1260 days, the last half-week of Daniel's prophecy, completing his seventy weeks. (See Rev. 11:2, Rev. 12:6-14.)*
*As this period of time has often been mentioned, it may be stated, for the information of the reader, that Daniel's seventy weeks, weeks of years, and therefore 490 in all, date "from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem" (Dan. 9:25); that is, from the twentieth year of Artaxerxes. (See Neh. 2) This is believed to correspond with 454 or 455 B.C. The seventy weeks are divided by Gabriel into three periods — seven, sixty-two, and one. "Unto the Messiah the Prince, shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks"; and hence after Christ came the last week only remained. But He was rejected, and the predicted era of blessing has consequently been postponed; and we thus read of that last week, the seventieth, appearing in connection with a covenant to be made with the mass of the Jewish people by the future head of the Roman empire, the first beast of Revelation 13. (See Dan. 9:27.) This covenant is broken in the middle of the week, and it is the last half of it that forms the 1260 days or the 42 months of Revelation. For faith the ministry of Christ occupied the first half of the last week; and hence it is that, whether in Matthew 24 or in Revelation, we have only the record of the last half, the 1260 days.
Two other particulars are added: "It was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." (vv. 7, 8.) The saints against whom he will wage war are those specified in the previous chapter (v. 17), he being in this, as indeed in all else, but Satan's instrument. God allows them to be overcome (compare Matt. 24:9, 10), not all of them as we learn after, but many, to test their faith, and to purify His people in the furnace of affliction. Moreover, the beast will be irresistible in his might, for "all kindreds, and tongues, and nations" will acknowledge his sway. Save the elect, all men also will worship the beast — all that dwell upon the earth, and this expression now, losing its special moral significance, will include every one, within this sphere, except God's people. It will only be the revival of the old Roman custom of paying homage, and offering incense, to images of the emperor. This relic of heathenism is shocking enough to the Christian mind, but in the deification of intellect and human power, already proceeding with such rapid steps, the way will be easily prepared for its restoration. All these who will worship the beast are said not to have their names written in the Lamb's book of life. (Cp. Rev. 20:15.) Those whose names were written in it did not therefore join in this idolatrous worship. One point of difference between the earthly saints thus negatively indicated and the heavenly saints may be noted. The latter are said to be chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, whereas the former's election only dates from the world's foundation. It is but another proof of how carefully the saints that form the church, as united to Christ, are distinguished from all others, whatever their blessedness.
This part of the chapter closes with a special proclamation. Solemn attention is called to it by the cry, "If any man have an ear, let him hear"; and then it is added, "He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints." (vv. 9, 10.) Two things are here contained. First, the assurance that divine judgment should surely fall upon the beast, the persecutor of the saints, and that he should be dealt with in the manner in which he had dealt with them (see Psalm 137:8) and, secondly, that the attitude of the saints in the midst of this unparalleled tribulation must be one of "unresisting patience," the attitude of our Lord Himself, who, when the hour of man and the power of darkness had come, suffered Himself to be "brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth." The faith and patience of the saints would be displayed in their confidence in God, and in their meek endurance of the fiery trial through which they would have to pass. (Compare Jeremiah 15:2.)
In this section of our book we have no less a personage than the antichrist introduced. Again and again his appearance on the scene is predicted, both by prophets of the Old Testament and by apostles of the New; and now, at last, we are permitted to see him emerge into view, and to read the character of his power and kingdom as delineated by the Spirit of God through His servant John. In a few brief words this diabolical instrument is described: "And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon." (v. 11)
Unlike the first beast of this chapter, who rose up out of the sea, out of the masses of the people in a state of lawless confusion, antichrist comes up out of the earth. The earth is a symbol of organized and ordered government, and we learn, therefore, that he gets his place in a regular governmental or political manner — obtains his sway after a legal form; and consequently his position will be in accord with the civil and political arrangements of the period.
Before proceeding to consider the account here given, it may be well to answer two or three questions to enable the reader to pursue the subject more intelligently. First, then, it may be enquired, Have we any information as to who the antichrist will be? From a passage in Daniel it appears that he will be a Jew, an apostate Jew. Speaking of "the king," who undoubtedly is the antichrist (compare Daniel 11:3 6 with 2 Thess. 2:4), he says, "Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers" (Rev. 11:37), that is, Jehovah as revealed to Israel. Our Lord's words point to the same conclusion. He said, speaking 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." (John 5:43.) The very contrast drawn with Himself shows that our Lord had antichrist in view; and it is thus sufficiently plain, without adducing other scriptures bearing on the point, that this false usurper will spring out of the Jewish nation.
This conclusion, together with many indications in the Apocalypse, enables us with certainty to determine the next point as to the place and seat of his power. It will be Jerusalem; for at that time the Jews will have returned in unbelief, and will have built their temple (see Rev. 11), and, as a consequence, will be morally ready to receive a false Christ. (See Matthew 24) The apostle Paul declares plainly that this "man of sin," "the son of perdition," will sit "in the temple of God, showing himself that he is god" (2 Thess. 2:4); and we know the temple will be at Jerusalem. Lastly, we may again answer the question as to the period indicated. It has been already explained, more than once, that these events take place after the rapture of the church, and before the appearing of Christ.
This is entirely corroborated by the apostle's statement in 2 Thess. 2. He says, "And now ye know what withholdeth that he ['the man of sin'] might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth [restraineth], will let [restrain], until he be taken out of the way.* And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming." (vv. 6-8.) The Spirit of God in the church, though the mystery of iniquity already works, restrains, and will restrain the manifestation of the evil in the person of the "son of perdition"† until He departs with the church. Then room is made for the revelation of this incarnation of evil, and he will continue until destroyed by the Lord Himself at His appearing. It is clear, therefore, beyond all question, that the interval between the Lord's coming for His saints and His appearing in glory is the period of antichrist's rise and power.
*It has sometimes been contended that this clause ought to be translated, "until he be developed out of the midst," and many quotations from the classics are given in support; the object being to prove that the church will be here at the same time as antichrist, and thus will have to pass through the great tribulation. Having been at some pains to examine the alleged use of the phrase, we found that in no single instance did the citation sustain the contention.
†The careful reader will recall the fact that the Lord applies this term to Judas.
Returning now to our chapter, two things are specially noted. First, this beast had two horns like a lamb. Claiming to be the expected Messiah, he imitates, assumes the appearance of, the true Christ. He was like a lamb in the vision; and, moreover, he had two horns; he had, that is, two of the forms of power which Christ as the Messiah will exercise. These are here the forms of prophetic and kingly power. Satan could not now give the third form, that of the priest; for he had lost his anti-priestly place when he was cast down out of heaven. (See Rev. 12:9, 10.) The other two he bestows upon his blind tool that he might lure therewith the Jewish nation to destruction. As ever, he will resort to imitation in order to deceive the unwary, and to accomplish their eternal ruin. (Compare 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 2 Tim. 3:8) Assume, however, whatever appearance he may, he cannot morally change his nature; for he spake as a dragon. The dragon is Satan (Rev. 12; also verses 2, 3), and hence, if lamb-like in form, his speech betrays him. Those taught of God, therefore, spite of his pretensions, will discern his true character; for the sheep know the voice of the good Shepherd, and they know not the voice of strangers. (John 10) So too, as we read in John's epistle, the babes in the family of God, warned against the many antichrists already in the world, shadows and forerunners of the antichrist, are reminded that they have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things. No saint of God, therefore, need be led astray, however specious the deception presented.
We have next the twofold form of his power — what may be termed civil, or governmental, and religious power. "And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed." (v. 12.) We gather from the first part of this description that antichrist will be a kind of vicegerent of the imperial head of the Roman Empire; and consequently that he will be sustained in his position by all that monarch's forces. There may be a special reason for this. It is evident from other scriptures that antichrist, during his sway, will be exposed to attacks from the "king of the north," or the Assyrian (see Daniel 11:40-45); and it would seem from another prophecy, that antichrist will enter into a league with the Roman power to make common cause against his adversary. (See Isaiah 28:14-22.) This may account for the fact here stated that he exercises all the power of the first beast before it. In return for the Roman support he assumes the office of prophet to the imperial head, and compels men to worship the first beast. It was a common thing for Roman emperors in the past to demand divine honours; and once more, as we here learn, the same thing will be witnessed in the world's history. The almost miraculous resuscitation of the imperial governmental form of power, when the "deadly wound" is healed (v. 3), will make the world wonder after the beast, and will, at the same time, prepare the way for its deification. The poor world, with all its vaunted wisdom and enlightenment, will be unable to distinguish between divine and Satanic power. And the culmination of its progress and civilization will be seen in the worship of the image of a man. Men will readily fall into the snare under the blinding influences of the strong delusion which God, in judgment, will send upon them, "that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned [judged] who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thess. 2:11, 12.)
Moreover, he will sustain his claims by miraculous displays of power. Like Elijah, he will cause fire to "come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men"; and even as the Lord Himself, he will work miracles to accredit his mission (compare 2 Thess. 2:9), and to prove the first beast's title to divine homage. Thereby he will deceive "them that dwell on the earth," and induce them to "make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live." (v. 14.)
He is permitted to go still further under the inspiration of Satan; for he will have "power to give life [not life, but breath] unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed." (v. 15.) Nebuchadnezzar went far, when he erected his image of gold in the plain of Dura, and issued a decree that all men should worship it, with the penalty of the burning fiery furnace if they refused. Antichrist will go still further; for his image, instinct with its diabolical breath, and the mouthpiece of Satan in its utterances, will fill the minds of its worshippers with fear and dread, so that all, excepting the elect of God (v. 8), will be constrained to obey the behest of antichrist, and to offer their homage to this creature of hell. They would not have God, and now they must worship Satan. Alas for man when he falls under the unhindered power of the devil!
Antichrist proceeds to regulate even commerce. He will cause "all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." (vv. 16, 17.) He will thus form a vast organization, composed of all save those whose names were written from the foundation of the world in the slain Lamb's book of life, outside of which it will not be lawful to buy or sell. Every member of it must bear the mark of allegiance to the beast in order to possess the liberty to trade. Under the mask of the welfare of the empire, all will be subjected to this awful tyranny under the pains and penalties of the deprivation of the commonest liberty of the individual. Foreshadowings of this frightful abuse of authority are frequently seen even in this tolerant age, affording a sufficient warning to those whose eyes are opened, that the most absolute despotism may often be cloaked under a profession of the most liberal ideas, and giving also an indication of the ultimate goal of modern politics under the concealed guidance and inspiration of Satan.
The chapter concludes with the number of the beast, which is six hundred and sixty-six. And "here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man." (v. 18.) Many have been the attempts to unravel this mystery; but all have been in vain. And we conclude, from the analogy of Scripture, that it will be impossible to discover the secret before the beast's appearance. When at length he shall come upon the scene, those who have the wisdom of God will be able to identify him by the number given; and they will thus be divinely forewarned. The indication here afforded is consequently for those who will be in the circumstances described.
It may be helpful to some if we add, that in order to obtain a complete view of the antichrist the various scriptures on the subject must be combined. Here, as before said, we have his actings in Jerusalem, and his relation to the imperial head of the Roman empire; in Daniel we see him menaced by the king of the north, or the Assyrian; in 2 Thess. 2 he is presented in relation to Judaism, which he seeks to set aside and supersede by claiming divine homage for himself; whereas in John's epistle he is seen as the denier of the Father and the Son; that is, of Christianity as so revealed. (1 John 2:22; see also 2 John 7.) What a contrast between the Christ of God and the antichrist of Satan! And let it not be forgotten that the mystery of lawlessness is already working, that many antichrists are abroad at this moment in the world, who, by their specious and subtle reasonings upon the word of God, are fast preparing the minds of men for the total rejection of all revealed truth, and thus to accept the guidance of Satan in the place of that of the Holy Spirit of God.*
*The attempt has often been made to unravel the mystery of the number 666 by "calculations according to the Greek value of the constituent letters" of the supposed name of antichrist. This has opened the door, as will readily be perceived, to endless speculations. One of the earliest solutions offered was "Lateinos"; and a current one is "Napoleon," the letters in both cases, when taken according to their Greek numerical values, making up the required 666. But, as observed in the text, the solution of the number will never be reached until the actual appearance of antichrist. Then, and not till then, his correspondence with the prediction will be easily detected by God's people on the earth.
IN the two previous chapters we have the record of Satan's activity, through his chosen instruments, in his attempt to place his yoke upon all the inhabitants of the earth. All his malice and hatred are directed against God, against His Christ, and against His people. For the moment, as also when our Lord was crucified, he seems to be victorious; he has asserted his power, and his sway is almost undisputed. Evil, and evil in its own native blackness and corruption, is triumphant.
In contrast with this, chapter 14 opens like a magnificent sunrise after a stormy night. It is a burst of light which contains the promise that all the clouds that had obscured the scene will be swept away. "And I looked, and, lo, a" (rather, the) "Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with Him an hundred forty and four thousand, having His Father's name* written in their foreheads." (v. 1.) This, as is often the case in this book, is an anticipative vision, revealing the end for the comfort of the saints, before the judgments are detailed which lead up to this point. In Rev. 13 the frightful oppression and persecution of the saints is seen; and in this vision they are displayed as having been tried and come forth as gold, and, as the result, enjoying a special place of association with the Lamb.
*The preferred reading is. "His name and the name of His Father."
Several points in the vision must be observed. As above indicated, it is the Lamb, the Lamb already known as presented in this book. But here He is seen in a new place. In chapter 5 He is revealed as standing in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders. Here He stands on mount Sion. John saw Him first "as it had been slain"; and we have thus three successive stages marked: first, the cross; next, His exaltation to the throne of God; and, lastly, His being set as God's King upon His holy hill of Zion. (Psalm 2) For Zion is the seat of royal grace from David's time and onwards. (See 1 Chr. 21; Psalm 48; compare Heb. 12:22); and consequently Christ is here displayed in the glory of His kingdom. The vision overleaps all the intervening sorrows and judgments, and, as in the scene on the mount of Transfiguration, permits us to behold His majesty and glory in the seat of His earthly rule and dominion.
There are with Him a hundred and. forty-four thousand. Who are these? They are not, though the same symbolical number,* those sealed from the twelve tribes in chapter 7; for the elect remnant out of the ten tribes will not be restored to the land of Israel until after Messiah shall sit upon the throne of His glory; whereas these are the preserved of the two tribes already in the land, those who will have passed through the sorrows of the period before the appearing of Christ, and hence termed "the first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb." (v. 4.) The ten tribes will not pass through the unparalleled troubles of which the Lord speaks in Matthew 24:15-28, all of which will have their centre in Jerusalem, and will be, as to the Jews, confined to the land. In the restoration from Babylon, of which we read in Ezra, only two tribes were concerned, saving individuals of other tribes, Judah and Benjamin. It was to these two tribes in the land that Christ was presented; but when He came to His own His own received Him not, and on them therefore lay the guilt of His rejection and crucifixion. By these same two tribes, that is, by the mass and their leaders, antichrist will be received; and thus it will be upon them that the chastisements of that day will descend, when the tribulation will be so great that no flesh would be saved, if for the elect's sake the days were not shortened. The 144,000 are these elect, the true remnant, who, in the midst of the apostasy of their brethren, as well as of the seduction and oppression of the antichrist, cleave to God and His truth, and are saved out of this time of Jacob's trouble. (Jer. 30:7.) Their weeping had endured for the night, but joy had come in the morning with the interposition of their glorious and looked-for Messiah. (See Isa. 25:9.) In this scene we see the full issue of God's grace through their sufferings, in their being made the companions of the Lamb amid the glories of His kingdom.
*Twelve is the number representing the perfection of administrative government in man (in Christ). Twelve times twelve will exhibit this in intensified perfection.
They are distinguished, moreover, by having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. The name, or the mark, of the beast had been written on the foreheads (or on the hands) of his followers — sign of their apostasy, and of the degrading yoke which they had accepted; but these, the 144,000, have the name of the Lamb, the expression of their allegiance and of their moral likeness to the One they follow, and the name of His (not their, because they, whatever their place, have not the Spirit of adoption) Father written on their foreheads. They had openly confessed the name of God and the Lamb, and had suffered, short of death,* as Christ had suffered through the confession of the name of His Father. (See John 5:17, 18.) They had therefore come into His former place on earth, in regard to His testimony, however feebly they had occupied it; and now in the abounding grace of God their foreheads are adorned with the names of the Lamb and of His Father, a proclamation to all of their past fidelity, and of the rich recompense which had been awarded to them by Him for whom they had suffered.
*This expression, "short of death," should be well weighed and examined. As pointed out afterwards, they are said to be "without fault," a word used of Christ (Heb. 9:14), of the church (Eph. 5:27), and of Christians in their final presentation before God. (Col. 1:22.) It is a question, therefore, whether this company may not have passed either through death, or by being changed, into a resurrection — not a heavenly, but a resurrection-condition.
It is in connection with the appearance of this elect remnant with the Lamb on mount Zion that John "heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and" (he says) "I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: and they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand which were redeemed* from the earth." (vv. 2, 3.) Who these heavenly choristers are we are not told. The voice is "from heaven," and the song is sung before the throne, and before the four living creatures, and the elders. But whoever may be these celebrants of praise, the subject would seem, from the connection, to be that of the victorious issue of the sufferings of this chosen remnant, traced back, doubtless, to God's grace and the blood of the Lamb. (Compare Rev. 5:9, 10.) This is the more evident from the fact, that no one could learn that song but the 144,000, for none but they had passed through the sorrows or had experienced the grace connected with their deliverance. The song suited to them in their circumstances was raised in heaven; and they, as in communion with the mind of God, caught up and repeated the strains. Happy are the saints of any period when they are enabled to apprehend in any measure the mind of God concerning His beloved Son, and when, with adoring hearts, they can utter, in the power of the Spirit, His worthiness and praise.
*This should really be rendered "bought" It is remarkable, but very significant, that the word redemption is not found in this book. It is always agorazein, and never lutroun.
Their characteristics follow. First, they had not defiled themselves with women; "for they are virgins." (v. 4.) In a scene where all had corrupted themselves they had been kept pure, pure from all the contamination by which they had been surrounded, guarding themselves from all the seductions of antichrist, and keeping themselves alone for Him for whom they waited. They were, it might be said, espoused to Christ, and they walked as chaste virgins amid surrounding defilements. (Cp. 2 Cor. 11:2, 3.) Then they "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth." That is, they are His companions in His earthly kingdom. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read of the companions of Christ (Heb. 1:9; Heb. 3:14*); but these "companions" embrace all Christians; whereas in our scripture they are confined to this suffering, but now victorious, remnant. Surely they will also confess that the sufferings of the past are not worthy to be compared with the glorious position on which they will have then entered. To have the privilege of being the constant and intimate attendants upon the King in His glory will be the sum and perfection of earthly bliss.
*This may be rendered, "for we are made companions of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end."
Moreover, they "were redeemed" (bought from) among men, being the first-fruits unto God and the Lamb. As with every class of the redeemed in all ages and dispensations, so with these, the blood of Christ alone constitutes their ransom price. Sold through their sins (Isaiah 50:1) into the hand of the enemy, nothing but the precious blood of Christ can redeem any from his power; and hence it is that the fact of the redemption of this elect remnant is here emphasized. As thus "bought," they are the firstfruits, unto God and the Lamb, not first-fruits in the sense in which Christ is (1 Cor. 15), or in which His people are (James 1:18), but the first-fruits of the new scene into which they have been introduced by Messiah's appearing and kingdom.* In this way they become, as it were, the nucleus of the chosen people when God sets His King upon His holy hill of Zion. Once more we are told, that "in their mouth was found no guile."† (v. 5.) The question is put in Psalm 15, "Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?" The answer (among others) is, "He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart."' It is with this last characteristic that the 144,000 correspond, and they are upon God's holy hill of Zion with the Lamb. Having truth in the inward parts, no lie was found in their mouth. Lastly it is added, "They are without fault." The word rendered "without fault" is the same as is applied to our Lord in Heb. 9:14, and 1 Peter 1:19, and given as "without spot." They are therefore meet for the presence of Him whose companions, through His grace, they are. But if spotless, and hence qualified to stand in His immediate presence, it could only be, let it be for ever repeated, through the applied efficacy of His own most precious blood. That, and that alone, cleanses from all sin.
*It may be also that the term "first-fruits" is used in relation to the harvest in &v. is, 16.
†The better reading is "falsehood"; for they are without fault. The words, "Before the throne of God," should be omitted, as also, we judge, the word "for" at the commencement of the clause.
What encouragement, it may be added, does this blessed scene afford. In Rev. 13, as has been remarked, Satan and Satan's power are to the outward eye triumphant; but here we behold the issue in the exaltation of the Lamb in the very place where antichrist had ruled; and in the safety, blessing, and triumph of His redeemed from among men. His sheep never perish, for none can pluck them out of His hand.
THE THREE ANGELIC PROCLAMATIONS;
AND THE HARVEST AND THE VINTAGE JUDGMENT.
The whole of this chapter forms a kind of parenthesis. In chapters 12 and 13 the hand of God is not apparent in the events related, although He reveals His own thoughts concerning His people, and concerning the embodiment of Satan's power in the revived Roman empire, together with its head and the antichrist. At the commencement of chapter 14, as already seen, we have an anticipative exhibition of the blessed remnant who will be preserved through the fiery trial of that day, and who, associated with the Lamb on mount Zion, will have the privilege of following Him whithersoever He goeth. Thereupon, coming now to our scripture, there is a solemn call to repentance, and the announcement of coming judgment upon the different forms of evil which have corrupted the earth. It is not that the judgments are yet actually executed; they are rather warnings of what is at hand, visions of what is impending — vouchsafed to John, and here recorded for the comfort and guidance of believers in all ages.
A "day of grace" always precedes judgment. This is shown in the following words: "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth,* and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to Him: for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters." (vv 6, 7.) On the very surface it is clear that this is not the gospel of the grace of God. It contains, indeed, but two things; first, a command to fear God and to give glory to Him, in the prospect of coming judgment; and, secondly, appealing to men on the ground of creation relationship, exhorts them to worship the Creator. Doubtless it is termed the everlasting gospel, because, apart from all special revelations of God, as to Israel and to Christians, and hence beyond all dispensations, God has ever borne to men the relationship of a Creator to His creatures, and as such is entitled to their reverence and adoration. (Compare Romans 1:18-23.) But man has utterly failed in his responsiblity as a creature, and consequently is, on that ground alone, exposed to judgment.†
*In the correct reading the word "dwell" is not the same as that hitherto noticed as having a moral force. The reason for the change lies probably in the fact that the proclamation has an universal importance.
†Another has said, "The everlasting gospel is the Seed of the woman that shall bruise the serpent's head; that is, the declaration that the Lord shall destroy with power when He comes in judgment. It is the announcement that the hour of His judgment is come, the unchanging good news from the beginning and onward."
Then, "there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath, of her fornication." (v. 8.) The moral character of Babylon, and the details of her judgment, are found in Rev. 17, 18. Any remarks therefore may be reserved till these portions of the book are reached, contenting ourselves now with calling attention to the fact that Babylon represents the religious corruptress of the earth — is, in fact what Rome has ever been, and what Babylon will yet more manifestly be, after Laodicea is rejected as God's responsible witness on the earth. Then she will be "the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth," and it is on her as such that her righteous doom is here proclaimed.
The civil power comes next under the eye of God, and hence there follows the third angel, "saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his, image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same 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 for ever 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." (vv. 9-11.) What a contrast between God's thoughts and those of man! On earth men may agree to cast off all fear of God, to profess to ignore His very existence, and to accept the rule of Satan; but the time is coming when God will intervene, and this solemn warning is written for all who will heed it, that judgment, if delayed, will surely fall upon all who accept the yoke and servitude of the beast. It is instructive, moreover, to note in a day when universalism is so popular, even among professing Christians, the character of the judgment. True that it falls upon a class; but if there were only some who will have to endure their punishment for "ages of ages," and who will "have no rest day nor night," the contention that there is no such thing as "eternal punishment" is utterly disproved. Remark also, that wherever man takes God's place in the souls of others, wherever men concede to man what belongs to God alone, there is morally the same guilt as that on which these terrible judgments are here pronounced.
It is easy to understand that the faith of the saints in this terrible time of the display of Satan's power will be subjected to no ordinary test. It is in view of this that the Spirit of God adds, "Here is the patience [endurance] of the saints: they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." (v. 12).* These saints are, in fact, the Jewish remnant, those who cleave to the commandments of God, as given in the old dispensation, and who believe in Jesus, spite of the pretensions of antichrist, as the coming Messiah. Tried to the utmost, their constancy will be seen in their holding fast to the word of God, and to their faith in Jesus all through this period of darkness, and of the frightful energy of evil.
*The words "here are" before "they that," as in the English version, should be omitted. The last clause of the verse is simply descriptive of the character of the saints.
Coupled with this, another class, or a class from among these, comes into view. To keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus, and consequently to refuse to render homage to the beast or to his image, will be to incur the penalty of death, and, as a consequence, numbers will suffer martyrdom. (See Rev. 20:4.) Now death to Jewish saints would be the loss of their special blessings connected with the hope of the coming of their glorious Messiah, of the establishment of His kingdom in power, and of His dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. (Compare Psalm 88) It is concerning this class, and the frustration of their earthly hopes, that John receives a special commandment from heaven to write, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them." (v. 13.) Man may be permitted to curse, and to put them to death; but God declares that they are blessed. All who have ever died in the Lord are blessed; absent from the body, they are present with the Lord; but the blessedness of this scripture applies to those whose hopes are not heavenly but earthly, to those who look for blessings on earth under Emmanuel rather than to be with Him in heaven. Cut off from the earth, they are blessed of God, and the Spirit declares it is that they may have rest from their labours; and, while not permitted to see the fruit of their activities on earth, their works shall follow them in heaven. There they will, by God's special grace, reap the reward of their toils. Further, it is revealed (Rev. 20), that they will have the special privilege of being included in the first resurrection, and thus, to be sharers with the heavenly saints in reigning with Christ. (See verses 4-6.)*
*There is another possible interpretation of these words. Immediately following, we have the coming of the Lord in discriminating judgment; and it may be that the blessing pronounced upon those who have died in the Lord (so they are divinely estimated) during the sway of antichrist. refers to their public owning and recompense as seen in Rev. 20. The reader must examine and weigh these interpretations.
The close is once more reached in the next vision. (See chap. 11:15-18.) The Man-child, caught up to God's throne, now returns in judgment; and the judgment He will execute is of a two-fold character, here described under the figures of a HARVEST and a VINTAGE. First, we have the description of the Reaper: "And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle." (v. 14). Both the manner of His advent — on the cloud — and the title — the Son of man — proclaim unmistakably the person of the Reaper. It is the rejected Jesus, who, refused by the Jews when presented to them as the Messiah, took up the wider title of the Son of man (see Psalm 8, Matthew 16:20, 27), under which all things are put under His feet. The "golden crown" not only speaks of His royal dignity, but also of the glory of that divine righteousness according to which everything will be both tested and judged, while the "sickle" announces the immediate object of His return. But as when down here He took the servant's place for the accomplishment of the will of God, so when He comes to execute the judgment written He will still occupy the same position. It is on this account that an angel is introduced, as coming out of the temple, and "crying with a loud voice to Him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in Thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for Thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe." (v. 15.)
There is something sublime in the simple statement of obedience to this command: "And He that sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped." (v. 16.) As to the character of the judgment here indicated, it may aid the reader to consult Joel 3:9-17, and Matthew 13:36-43. Two or three points may be noticed. It is the earth that is reaped, and hence it is men as men, not the Jewish nation especially, that are in question. Secondly, the angel who cried to Him that sat on the cloud, "Thrust in Thy sickle, and reap," came out of the temple. The judgment therefore was to proceed according to the revealed character of Him whose habitation it was. Bearing these points in mind, it is easily understood that the judgment is of a discriminating character, gathering the wheat into His garner, and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. The Scriptures deal constantly with this aspect of the appearing of our Lord and Saviour. In some of the similitudes of the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13 it is found; so also in chap. 25, where the Lord, as the King, will gather all nations before the throne of His glory, and separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. (vv. 31-46.)
The scene that follows, while related to the preceding one, has a different character. "And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, He also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to Him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in Thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe. And the angel thrust in His sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God." (vv. 17-19.) The first question to be answered is as to the angel that appears here as the executor of judgment. There cannot be a doubt that, although He is not named, it is also the Son of man; for, as we read elsewhere, the Father hath committed all judgment unto the Son, hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man. (John 5:22-27.) But He is here seen only as an angel, not merely in accordance with the symbology of the book, but because He comes as the divine instrument of God's will in judgment upon the vine of the earth, and hence, in this case, comes out for this purpose from the temple, from God's immediate presence. He is seen as the Son of Man when the judgment relates to the Gentiles. but here as an angel when the Jews are prominent before the mind. For what, we may now enquire, is set forth by the vine of the earth? The figure is familiar. Israel was a vine, brought out of Egypt, and planted in Canaan (Psalm 80), but when God looked for it to bring forth good grapes, nothing was found, notwithstanding all the culture it had received, but wild grapes. (Isaiah 5:1-7.) It was on this account that Christ Himself replaced Israel, before God, as the vine: He became the true vine, of which His own were the branches. (John 15) The vine of the earth therefore will be that which should have borne fruit for God; and is in the scene before us, inasmuch as it is the object of judgment, apostate Judaism, with which the Gentiles, as we know, will be allied.
The character of the judgment is shown by the words, "the great winepress of the wrath of God." It is thus unsparing judgment (see Isaiah 63:1-4) upon Messiah's adversaries in connection with the establishment of His kingdom. (See, for example, Zechariah 14, Revelation 19.
One thing more is to be gleaned from the last verse: "And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs." (v. 20.) The term "without the city" indicates undoubtedly that the neighbourhood of Jerusalem is the locality of this unmitigated vengeance. With this agrees the prophet Joel (as well as Isaiah and Zechariah), who seems to combine in one verse (Joel 3:2-13) both the harvest and the vintage judgments. He specifies the valley of Jehoshaphat as the place where the nations will be judged, as well as the apostate Jews with whom they will be associated. The terrible character of the vengeance of that day is seen in the awful, if symbolic, statement concerning the blood that came out of the winepress, reaching unto the horse bridles, and extending to 1,600 furlongs; that is, as some have observed, to the whole length of the Holy Land.
REVELATION 15, 16.
THE connection of these chapters is with the thirteenth rather than with that which precedes. The latter, as before observed, is parenthetical. This will be at once seen by the character of the present vision. In chapter 13 the first and second beasts, the head of the revived Roman empire and the antichrist, are introduced; and the consequent display of Satan's power in spiritual deception and despotic tyranny is exhibited. Here we have the "seven last plagues," in which "is filled up the wrath of God," brought forth as about to be visited upon the apostate earth, upon that portion of it especially which had accepted Satan's yoke under the deceptive influences of antichrist. The foundations may be destroyed, and the righteous may be almost in despair, but God's throne is still in the heaven; and His eyes behold, His eyelids try, the children of men. (Psalm 11) After the introduction of the seven angels, having the seven last plagues, there is a significant break, and, as is often the case in Scripture, the end is revealed before the commencement. Or rather, before the storm of God's wrath bursts in all its desolating fury upon the earth, He vouchsafes to us a vision of the issue of the trial for His saints. We are permitted to see them preserved through all the unutterable sorrows of that day, with their hearts overflowing in praise to Him who had protected them from Satan's power, and snatched them as brands from the burning.
John says: "And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God." (v. 2.) The "sea of glass" is evidently that referred to in Rev. 4, where we read, "And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal." It is moreover as clear from Solomon's "molten sea" that the allusion is to the laver in the holy place. This contained water as the means of purification; the "sea" before the throne is of glass, or "like unto crystal," the figure of fixed and accomplished holiness, without which these saints could not have been in heaven. But it was "mingled with fire," indicative of the fiery tribulation out of which they had come, and which God had used for the trial and purification of their faith. (See 1 Peter 1:6, 7.) Their characteristic description is also to be remarked: they are those "that had gotten the victory over the beast," etc. To man's eyes they were surely vanquished by his power; but before God they were conquerors through Him that had loved them. So too, in outward appearance, it was with our blessed Lord: "He was crucified through weakness, yet He liveth by the power of God." Man's victories are demonstrative and showy; moral triumphs are silent and unseen, and often accompanied, as with these saints, with the loss of everything in this world. Their occupation is praise: they have harps — symbols of triumphant gladness — and they sing. The character of their song is two-fold, "They sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb." (v. 3.) "The song of Moses is triumph over the power of evil by God's judgments. The song of the Lamb is the exaltation of the rejected Messiah, of the suffering One, and like whom they had suffered; for it is the slain remnant amidst unfaithful and apostate Israel whom we find here."* The allusion will be therefore to Exodus 15, and perhaps, for the song of the Lamb, to Revelation 5.
*Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, vol. v.
It is interesting to notice that these redeemed ones celebrate God as they had known Him on earth; that is, as revealed in the Old Testament. It is "Lord God Almighty," Jehovah, Elohim, Shaddai; showing the immense difference between the place of the Jewish saints and those of the present dispensation. The ground of their praise is God's marvellous works; that is, we apprehend, as seen in the judgments which had fallen upon the oppressors of God's people; and they add, "Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints."* (v. 3.) The interposition of God in judgment had dispelled all the clouds that had obscured (to sight) His ways in government; but, now that the end is reached, they confess that they were both righteous and true; and righteous and true in relation to the world at large, for He is here owned as King of nations. Faith is assured of this when God's way is in the sea, and His footsteps are not known; still this suffering, but now victorious remnant, sustained by divine power, had gotten the victory over the whole power of evil; and, as they review the past, they gladly confess that all God's ways had been according to Himself, and had ended in the furtherance of His own glory.
*It should be "nations," not "saints."
In the next place they contemplate the effect of God's judgments. — It is but the amplification of the prophet's words, "When Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." (Isa. 26:9.) They cry, "Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? for Thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before Thee; for Thy judgments are made manifest." (v. 4.) These saints, it will be remembered, are in heaven; and it is there they anticipate the full millennial blessedness of the earth in the subjection of all nations to Christ as King; and this as the result of God's judgments having been made manifest. (See Ps. 72:8-11; Zeph. 3:8, 9; Zech. 14:16.)
All is thus prepared; and we read: "And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the, testimony in heaven was opened. And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles." (vv. 5, 6.) As in Rev. 11:19, so here the temple of the tabernacle is opened in heaven; only it is the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony, rather than the ark of the covenant, that is seen. In both alike the significance is that God is about to act in view of Israel, and according to His unchanging purposes of grace towards them; but in the case before us, as "the testimony" is prominent (the testimony, that is, embodied in the two tables of the law), it will indicate that this is the standard according to which God will proceed to judgment through the angels as the providential instruments of His government; and that He is thus about to make good His character as so revealed, according to this testimony.
There are seven angels — this number as usual setting forth the completeness or perfection of that in which they are to be engaged; and their array is distinguished by two things — their pure and white linen dress, and their golden girdles. The white linen is a symbol of spotless purity, absolute cleanness in God's sight, that which should have been seen, as has been suggested, in Babylon, but superseded there by corruption and "abominations." The golden girdles set forth the fact that these angelic instruments were girded by divine righteousness for their service. The white raiment and the gold (crowns of gold) characterize the twenty-four elders (Rev. 5), and "the fine linen," clean and white, distinguishes the Lamb's wife (Rev. 19); and both of these traits mark these angels when sent forth on their judicial mission, because "it is really the avenging of what God was, as fully revealed to the assembly."
It is one of the four living creatures who gives "unto the seven angels seven golden vials [or bowls] full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever." (v. 7.) It is thus the eternal God who is about to deal with the world through these providential scourges. When we say "providential" we mean that His arm will not be made bare, except to the eye of faith; that to the eyes of the natural man the things which will happen will seem to be the result of the operation of natural laws. Science, for example, might be able to pacify the fears of men by indicating causes, or by alleging an explanation of the events. The reader will remark that one of the four living creatures hands the bowls to the angels, and that the bowls, even as the girdles of the angels, are golden. The living creatures, symbols of the attributes of God as displayed in creation, are always connected with God's throne, and with His throne in its judicial aspect, in its relation to God's government of the earth. It is therefore in harmony with the action proceeding, judicial wrath in government, that one of these living creatures should be the intermediary between God and the angels. The golden bowls or vials tell again of God's righteousness, what is suited to His own nature which He is about to vindicate in judgment. (Compare Rom. 1:16-18.)
The vials being given to the angel, another thing is recorded. "And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from His power; and no man [no one] was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled." (v. 8.) The glory of God is the display of what He is. Any putting forth therefore of what God is, whether in grace, in power, or in holiness, is a display of His glory. Here accordingly, as power in judgment is in question, it is the display of what He is judicially according to the requirements of His own nature. (Compare Isa. 6:1-4, also 2 Chr. 7:1, 2.) This at once explains why, until these judgments were completed, no one could enter the temple; for who indeed could stand before a God of judgment?
While one of the living creatures is employed to give the vials to the angels, the command for action proceeds out of the temple itself: "And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth." (Rev. 16:1.) The attitude of the seven angels is to be remarked as a pattern of all true service. It is an attitude of perfect obedience. They come out from the presence of God, they receive the instruments of their service from one of the living creatures, and finally they do not move a step until they have a divine command; they "do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word."
Upon the vials themselves but few remarks will be necessary, because of their remarkable similarity to the seven trumpets. We shall therefore content ourselves with calling attention to the points of agreement and difference, and to their general significance. First of all it should be noted, that, inasmuch as the seventh trumpet reaches down to the close, and the establishment of Christ's kingdom, the seven vials must, if comprised within a shorter period, he in part contemporaneous with the seven trumpets. If they begin after the commencement of the trumpets, they must still terminate at the same time. Secondly, there is no mention in the vial-judgments, as in the case of the trumpets, of a "third part" being specially affected. That is to say, the effects of God's judicial dealing are not confined, as in the trumpets, to the Roman earth, but are more general in their character. Thirdly, the first four vial-plagues" have the same object as the judgments of the first four trumpets — the whole circle of symbolic nature, but here directly as regards men, earth, sea, rivers, and sun." The fifth and sixth vials correspond with the fifth and sixth trumpets: both alike affect the kingdom of the beast and the Euphrates, while the last two in each series bring us to the close of God's dealings with the earth preparatory to the introduction of the kingdom of Christ.
Attention to the above comparison and contrast will aid in seizing the general meaning of these last seven plagues. The first vial is poured out upon "the earth," the scene of ordered government: "And there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image." (v. 2.) Satan may delude men and seduce them into apostasy, and into the acceptance of the beast and antichrist, but God will once more make it known, by causing His hand to fall upon His enemies, as in Egypt in days of old, that He will not suffer His glory to be given to another. The next vial is poured out "upon the sea," the sea representing the masses of the peoples, "viewed as unorganized"; "and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea." (v. 3.) It may be difficult to state precisely what is intended here; but plainly some deadly influence goes forth in this plague among the peoples of the earth, resulting in general moral death. The third is somewhat similar, only the plague falls upon "the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood." (v. 4.) If rivers and fountains represent moral principles, which, in their course, should be the sources of life and refreshment to men, this will portend the corruption of these, the surrender of all such, so that what is offered in their stead becomes the means of death rather. than life. It is so in this day, for example, when rationalism and infidelity flow out through the nation in the place of the word of God.
This plague evokes from "the angel of the waters" the cry, "Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be,* because Thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy." (vv. 5, 6.) On the ground of righteousness this principle is evident. Men had put to death God's witnesses, rejected His word, and now they have judicially to "drink" that which causes death. So, for example, the Jews shed the blood of Stephen and others, and they, in this case of their own will, "drank," in their blind hate against God and His truth, that which brought in spiritual death upon their souls. To the cry of the angel of the waters, "another out of the altar" is heard to respond, "Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments." (v. 7.)
*Another reading gives, omitting "O Lord," "Thou art righteous, who art and wast, the Holy One."
The fourth and fifth vials are easily comprehended. The fourth "poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him [it] to scorch men with fire." (v. 8.) The sun, it will be recollected, is the emblem of supreme authority; and this plague therefore points to some tyrannical exercise of it, some fearful despotism which causes immense trial and suffering to those trodden down under its heel. But so far from humbling themselves before God, while groaning under sufferings, men blaspheme His name, for in spite of their wickedness they will be made to recognize that He "hath power over these plagues." Yet, such is the hardness of man's heart, "they repented not, to give Him glory." (v. 9.)
"The fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat [throne] of the beast"; and, again like Egypt of old, "his kingdom was full of darkness," only this, we apprehend, would be moral in its character rather than actual. The consequence was what is really a foretaste of hell; for in the intensity of their distress and misery they "gnawed their tongues . . . and blasphemed the God of heaven," to whom they also attribute "their pains and their sores." But they "repented not of their deeds." (vv. 10, 11) The reader cannot fail to be struck with the solemn repetition of the impenitence of those who are suffering under the judicial hand of God. They had despised and killed His witnesses, and now, though they cannot any longer conceal from themselves that there is a God who judges the earth, they refuse to acknowledge their sin. They "repented not"; their evil hearts still clung to the very deeds which had brought upon them their terrible sufferings. What a proof of the incurable evil of human nature, that every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart is only evil continually!
The sixth angel "poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the East might be prepared." (v. 12.) The Euphrates, a river well known in Scripture, was, and, as is plain from this scripture, will be, the eastern boundary of the Roman empire. What is here symbolically described therefore as the drying up of its water, will mean that this boundary is broken through, and can no longer be maintained.* Whatever the human instrumentality by which the removal of this boundary is effected, it is the consequence of the pouring out of the angelic vial. It is a "plague" from the hand of God through His providential agents. In connection with this, "three unclean spirits like frogs" proceed from the trinity of evil, "out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet," and act upon "the kings of the whole habitable world."† (vv. 13, 14.) Just as Ahab was persuaded by "a lying spirit" in the mouth of his prophets to go up to Ramoth-Gilead to battle to his own destruction, so these "spirits of demons, working miracles" (v. 14), will influence these kings to combine with one consent with their allies for their objects, all ignorant of the fact that they are being gathered for the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Jerusalem, as we may learn from the prophets, will be the point to which they will converge (see Isaiah 66; Zech. 12 - 14; with Rev. 19:11-21); and Jerusalem will be the object of their attack. At first victory will seem to be theirs; but just as their prey is about to be devoured, the Lord Himself will appear, and, rescuing His people, will "destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem." (Zech. 12)
*Whether these kings of the East come at first in antagonism to the "beast" cannot be known. In the issue, it is certain they are his confederates.
† So it should read, and not, as in the English Version, "the kings of the earth and of the whole world."
That this is the event indicated is seen from verse 15. After the description of the action of the three spirits of demons there is a solemn pause, and the Lord Himself speaks: "Behold, I come as a thief." This is the known way in Scripture of His coming to the world; that is, of His appearing. (See 1 Thess. 5:1-4; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev. 3:3, etc.) This makes it very clear that the battle of that great day of Almighty God is that consequent upon the sudden appearing of Christ in His glory as described in the scriptures above given. It is because He will come thus as a thief that He adds, "Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame." (v. 15, compare Matt. 24:36, 37.) This instruction, as well as warning, applies above all to the elect remnant of that day.
One more particular is now added — the name of the place to which the kings and their armies will be gathered. It is called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.* This name has a symbolical import, and means, in fact, the hill of Megiddo. Megiddo was the great battle-field of Barak (Judges 5:19), and had, therefore, combined with other events in connection with the same place,† a peculiar significance in Jewish history. This will account for its application to that awful place where "the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies" will gather "together to make war against Him that sat on the horse" (the Lord in His glory) "and against His army." (Rev. 19:19.)
*Some read, Harmagedon.
†See, for example, 2 Chronicles 35:20-27, where one of the saddest events, as affecting the Jewish people, is recorded.
The consummation is now reached. Together with the pouring out of the seventh vial "into the air, there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done." (v. 17.) God's preliminary judgments are now completed; and the next thing to follow, not described here, will be the event announced in verse 15, the coming of the Lord as a thief. The effects of this last plague are briefly given. The great city, Rome (Rev. 17:18), "the unified association of European civilization," for it is the expression of all that the Roman Empire is in its wealth, art, literature, and commerce (see Rev. 18) is "divided into three parts." (v. 19.) Babylon is judged, the details of which are found in chap. 18; "and every island fled away, and the mountains were not found" (v. 20); all the world's stability and order are utterly subverted, and reduced to chaotic confusion; and finally, God's violent judgments (see Isaiah 32:19) will once again descend on men, who, still untouched by His repeated scourges, will in their madness respond with blasphemy "because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great." (v. 21.)
AT the close of the previous chapter, in connection with the last vial, we are told that "great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath." And now, before the specific details of her judgment are described (Rev. 18), her moral character and her connection with the civil power are portrayed, and portrayed with such distinctness that her identification is easy, beyond even the possibility of mistake, for those who are not blinded by prejudice and preconceived ideas, and who are subject to the word of God.
"And there came," says John, "one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me 'Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of 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." (vv. 1, 2.) Then, from verse 3 to verse 6 we have in detail what John saw when he was carried away by the angel "in the spirit into the wilderness." (v. 3.) Next, from verse 6 to the end of the chapter the angel's own interpretation of the vision is recorded, as given to John.
First of all, we may occupy ourselves with the two-fold description of Babylon as the "great whore" or harlot, and as the "woman." In Rev. 21:9 it is also one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, etc., who says to John, "Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife." The designed contrast is too evident to escape notice, and at once reveals the significance of the expression, "the great whore." We learn thus, beyond all doubt, that what claimed to be the bride of Christ was morally, according to the unerring estimate of God, a great harlot. The second verse of our chapter explains this — the manner of her "fornication" with the kings of the earth, and further adds that she had intoxicated the inhabitants of the earth with the wine of her special sin. The church of God, the bride, the Lamb's wife, is heavenly in origin, character, and hopes; but that which usurped this title became wholly earthly, became a power amidst the powers of the world, made alliances with them, or reduced them to subjection, and thereby she corrupted herself and those with whom she entered into unholy association. Thereby, too, she blinded and deceived the inhabitants of the earth with her intoxicating wine, allowing them, under the sanction of her assumed authority, the gratification of every lust of the flesh. Corrupted herself, she corrupted the word of God, and became the corruptress of all with whom she came into contact.
She is, moreover, presented as a "woman"; and the angel expressly says that the woman is "that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth." (v. 18.) The church, as we have seen, is the bride, the Lamb's wife; but what John saw, when the angel thus described her, was "that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God." (Rev. 21:10.) This affords another contrast. The church is a heavenly, and the "woman" is an earthly city. In both of these characters therefore Babylon counterfeits the heavenly Jerusalem.. This will help us to understand the significance of the "woman." She is a system, the expression of a system, a centre that gathers up and presents all her principles in an organized form. We are acquainted with this symbolism even in our ordinary speech. We say, for example, that a person has "gone over to Rome," meaning that he has joined the papal "church."
Before proceeding further, it will clear our way if we seek to answer definitely the question as to what system is indicated under the figure of the woman. In addition to what has been said, which in itself is sufficient to supply the answer, three things, named in the chapter, may be considered. In verse 9 we read, "Here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads" (alluding to the beast) "are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth." It would be a waste of time to show, what has been indisputably proved a thousand times, that Rome was ever known as the seven-hilled city. There could not, in fact, have been a more direct explanation given that Rome is the city intended.* Again, in verse 15, it is said, "The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." The significant change should be remarked from the term "woman" in verse 9 to the "whore" here used. When it is a question of locality, identified with the system, "woman" is employed; but seen in connection with the various races and divisions of people that own her debasing sway, we have "harlot," to give prominence to her corrupting character. If, then, the city of Rome is plainly intended in verse 9, here it is the fact of her almost universal dominion to which our attention is called. Lastly, in verse 18, it is said that the "woman" is no other than that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth. Every student of history is acquainted with the fact that this is exactly what Rome did in the middle ages. Claiming to be Christ's vicegerents on earth, the popes always avowed their title to sovereignty over the kingdoms of the world; and even now, though to a large extent the nations have revolted against their arrogant demands, the claim is still asserted. Combining therefore these several features, so strikingly set forth in this chapter, only one conclusion is possible, viz., that we have here a vision of papal Rome. But the reader will remember that the time is yet future when she will entirely correspond with the portraiture of this chapter; not forgetting, at the same time, that the moral character of Rome has been the same in all ages.†
* If it be objected that the mountains represent the symbolic force of the seven heads of the beast, seven forms of governmental power, the answer is, that the two things coincide, inasmuch as Rome was and will be the seat of government.
†It may assist the reader if the above contrast is presented in a still more distinct form. The church is seen, in the last chapters of this book, as the bride of Christ, and as a city, the holy city, new Jerusalem. Babylon, as Satan's master counterfeit, or imitation, is also a city, and claims to be a bride. As the latter, she is the expression of a religious system, and is here termed a harlot, "the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth." Such is her moral character in the sight of God. As a city, Babylon is the seat of administration in government, as we read in verse 9: "The seven heads" (of the beast, verse 3) "are seven mountains" (a description as explained in the text which plainly points to Rome), "on which the woman sitteth." Satan's last effort to deceive the eyes and hearts of men, before the appearing of Christ, will thus be in the formation of Babylon, as an imitation of God's city, new Jerusalem. But here in this chapter his devices are exposed for all who have eyes to see, and ears to hear.
We may now pursue, with more intelligence, the consideration of details. It should be first remarked that the "wilderness" is the scene of the vision, a moral desert, where, to borrow language, no springs of God are found; and this wilderness is to be regarded as the result of the influence of the woman and of the beast. It is in such a place that John "saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns." (v. 3.) The beast we already know from Rev. 13:1, and the reader can refer back to our remarks there; but we may once again call attention to the plain description here given by the angel: "The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is." (v. 8.) The Roman empire was in full vigour in the apostle's day, the empire that was shadowed out by Daniel's fourth beast (Dan. 7:7), and which is to be found in existence at the coming of the Ancient of Days. (v. 22.) At the present moment this empire "is not"; and we learn from our chapter that it will, and must to fulfil the prediction of Daniel, reappear. But it will reappear as devilish in its origin, it will ascend out of the bottomless pit, and it will be blasphemous in its character. (v. 3.) Still more precise information is given. The beast has seven heads — forms of power, represented in verse 10 as kings, of whom five had fallen in the apostles' days. One was then existing, "the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition." (vv. 10, 11) If Napoleon I. is, as has often been suggested, the one who was to make the seventh, there remains now only the appearance of the "beast" to fulfil the angelic prophecy.*
*The five forms of governmental power that had passed away would seem to have been: kings, consuls, dictators, decemvirs, and military tribunes. The Caesars were then existing. This would leave, as pointed out above, Napoleon, and the beast of Rev. 13.
Such then is the last awful form of governmental power, embodied in the revived Roman empire, which will fill the minds of all, outside of the elect saints of God, with amazement and admiration. What greater proof could be given of what man is than the fact that his ideal of government will be satanic?
Before pursuing other features of the "beast," we return now to the "woman" and her relation to it. In verse 3 she is here seen "sitting upon" the beast; that is, what the woman represents, Popery in its full-blown development after the rapture of the saints, is allied with and upheld by the world-power. She is borne up and carried along by all the power of the resuscitated Roman empire. This is the principle of all State "churches," only here it is exemplified in its grossest form because of the character of the "woman." First, her dress is specified: "And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication." (v. 4.) What a contrast to the bride, the Lamb's wife! To her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white (Rev. 19:8); but this usurper is clad in all the gorgeous beauty of earthly splendour, in the two colours that betoken worldly and imperial glory, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, all of which had their symbolic place in Judaism, in that which since the cross is divinely described as the elements of the world, or "beggarly elements," and which therefore in themselves contain the absolute denial of the church's heavenly origin and character. She has, moreover, a golden cup in her hand, full of the abominations wherewith she seduces and corrupts the nations of the earth.
Then we read: "And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth." (v. 5.) By "mystery" we understand that this had not been revealed before, and that it was something which could not have been understood but for this divine explanation. "Babylon the great" sets forth her corrupting character. In the Old Testament the symbolical significance of Babylon is "corruption in the activity of power," and that activity of power which brought the people of God into bondage, as the consequence of their sins. What we learn here, therefore, is that the professing church on earth, rejected as Laodicea, refused as Christ's light-bearer in the world, will finally concentrate within herself, and in a more intense form, all the evils that marked Babylon of old; and hence it is that she is termed Babylon the great. This wicked "woman" is also a mother, a mother of other systems, as false to Christ as herself. It is thus not only Popery, but all other systems that derive their parentage from her and partake of her character. Are there not such already in existence? "Abominations" also are produced by her. Now, "abominations" is a well-known scriptural word for "idols"; and consequently Rome is a parent of idolatry. Who does not know the fact? And yet people are so willingly blinded as to listen to her protestations of innocence of the charge, and to accept her embrace.*
*It should be remembered that the name written on the forehead of the "woman" will be only spiritually discerned. Externally she will present everything that is attractive to man as man.
Lastly, the most heinous charge of all is preferred: "And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus." (v. 6.) What Jerusalem became in a past age (see Matt. 23:34, 35), Rome is in the present dispensation. She has ever been and will ever maintain the character of the great persecutress of the saints of God. There is not a land, where she has gained a footing, which she has not defiled with the blood of God's elect. Like Manasseh of old, who "shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another," she has hunted, persecuted, burnt or killed the witnesses of Christ in every quarter of the globe. Black Bartholomews, murdered Albigenses and Waldenses, mark her progress at every step, and will continue to do so, for "she will not repent" until the consummation of our chapter is reached.
It is in answer to the astonishment of the apostle that the angel proceeds to expound "the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns." (v. 7.) Of the woman we have spoken, as also of the "beast" in its main characteristics. We now proceed to the further development in connection with the ten horns: "And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast." (v. 12.) Those who have read with any intelligence Daniel's interpretation of the image Nebuchadnezzar had seen in his dream (Dan. 2:36-45), and his own vision of the fourth beast, together with the angelic explanation given to him (Dan. 7), will be prepared to understand the meaning of the ten horns or kings of this chapter. It is very plain, from the, combination of these several scriptures, that the final form of the restored western Roman Empire will be ten kingdoms, all of which will be confederate under an imperial head — the beast. The angel, speaking of the sovereigns of these kingdoms, says they receive power as kings one hour with the beast; and he then adds, "These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast." (v. 13.) For the moment these ten kingdoms will be unanimous, holding out to deluded man the prospect of halcyon days of peace and prosperity in accepting the leadership of the beast, who will thus seem to be resistless and invincible. Hence the introduction here — leaping over the interval, however brief, of other events — of the statement that he with his allies in their mad self-confidence and daring impiety will "make war with the Lamb," only, as we know it must be, to meet with complete and utter destruction. The full account of this is in chapter 19, and we reserve any further remarks therefore till this portion is reached.
Coming now to verse 16, we find a change: "And the ten horns which thou sawest upon* the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled." (vv. 16, 17.) It would seem from this statement as if the change in the attitude of the imperial power towards the harlot is simultaneous with or consequent upon the federation of the ten kingdoms under the Roman head. Whether so or not, the ten kings and the beast turn round from being the supporters of Rome, and, becoming her enemies they confiscate her possessions, strip her of her gorgeous raiment, and utterly destroy her very existence. If we recall Rev. 13, the motive for this action may be gathered. Together with the advent of the antichrist, the "beast" is elevated into the supreme object of worship, and thus the "woman," false as she has been to Christ since she will still traffic with His name, will no longer be tolerated. But in taking vengeance upon her, these potentates all unknown to themselves are the blind executors of God's will. Satan united the powers of the world against Christ, and Satan gives the beast his power, his throne, and great authority, and now we behold Satan himself, in his rage against God and His Christ, accomplishing God's purpose in the extinction of the "harlot."
*The word and should be substituted for "upon," as being the correct reading.
The chapter concludes, as before pointed out, with an identification of the woman, which admits of no mistake; for there has never been a religious system on the earth, save Rome, which could be said to reign over the kings of the earth.