Section 3 of: The Revelation of Jesus Christ
by T. B. Baines.
The Lamb's Wife
As the marriage of the Lamb and the presentation of the bride are before Christ's glorious appearing to judge and govern the world, it might be thought better to class them with those preliminary events dealt with in our last part. They are however so closely associated with His coming to receive His inheritance that the moral connection seems more strictly preserved by regarding them as a foreground to that picture of His advent and reign which fills the rest of the book. Christ takes His inheritance as "Head of the body, the Church;" nor is He, so to speak, perfected for this inheritance until the Church is thus associated with him; for it is "the fulness [or completion] of Him that fills all in all." In one sense indeed the Church is thus associated with Him now; but the time for its full and perfect recognition as the Lamb's wife is only just before His glorious appearing.
The judgment of Babylon is among the latest acts before Christ's reign; for the seven last plagues "fill up the wrath of God," and this judgment is one of the last events in this closing scene. The league of the beast and the ten kings is only for "one hour," a term clearly signifying a very short period; and they are already gathering their forces for the fatal battle-field of Armageddon, when this outburst of fury lays Babylon in the dust. There is a design in this. The events in heaven wait, so to speak, on the events in the earth. While the harlot reigns the wife does not take the place she has in God's counsels. As soon as the harlot is judged the wife is seen arrayed in her wedding garments, and the marriage of the Lamb is celebrated in heaven.
"And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye His servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great." (Rev.19:5.) This verse connects the portion we have before been looking at with that which now comes before us. A voice issues from the throne, the throne of judgment on which God is sitting, claiming worship from all His servants, and all that fear Him. His judgments now visiting the earth include both the solemn destruction of His enemies, and the vindication of His own holiness. The former we have seen in the judgment of Babylon; the latter we now see in time reign of Christ, and the glory of the Church, the first-fruits of His redemption work.
"And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God Omnipotent [or Almighty] reigns. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife has made herself ready." (vv. 6, 7.) Here, as we have seen before, the reign of Christ and of God are spoken of as identical. This is not because Christ is God (for it is as man that He takes the kingdom), but it is because Christ as man perfectly carries out God's will; so that His government is, what all government should be, the government of God administered in obedience to His will by man. How soon after its institution government lost this character is shown in the Old Testament. How completely it reverses it in its last stage, when the ruling power of the world becomes the executor, not of God's will, but of Satan's, is shown in former chapters of this book. Now God is about to give the throne to the one man who will perfectly carry out His will, so that He Himself shall really reign in the earth.
Here again God is spoken of as Lord God Almighty — Jehovah, Elohim, Shaddai. It was as Almighty God that He entered into covenant with Abraham; it was as Jehovah that He made Himself known to Israel. The promises of earthly dominion and government given to the seed of Abraham and the nation of Israel all cluster round these names. It was only by faith indeed that Abraham knew God as the Almighty; but now He is about to show Himself, both to friend and foe, as at once almighty in His judgments, and almighty in His salvation.
But glory is given to God, not merely because He reigns, but because "the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife has made herself ready." Who then is this wife of the Lamb? Speaking to the Corinthians, Paul says, "I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." (2 Cor. 11:2.) And so in another epistle he writes, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it … that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. … For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the Church: for we are members of his body, of His flesh, and of his bones. … This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church." (Eph. 5:25-32.)
These passages show that the Lamb's wife spoken of in the Revelation is the Church. The scene of the marriage is in heaven, and it is important to bear this in mind, for there is an earthly as well as a heavenly bride, just as there is an earthly as well as a heavenly Jerusalem. The difference, however, is most marked. Jeremiah writes, "Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus says Jehovah; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals." (Jer. 2:2.) The espoused wife proves herself unfaithful, and is cast off; but God declares, that after many days of visitation He "will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. … And she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth." (Hosea 2:14-15.) And when Christ comes as King, girding His sword upon His thigh, making His arrows sharp in the heart of His enemies, and establishing His throne "for ever and ever;" when He appears anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows, all His garments smelling "of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces;" then it is said to Jerusalem, "So shall the King greatly desire thy beauty: for He is thy Lord; and worship thou Him." (Ps. 45:1-11.) How different the earthly and the heavenly brides! The earthly bride, having proved unfaithful, is cast off, but will at length be allured into the wilderness, and thence restored and made glorious in the earth. The heavenly bride, the true Church of God, has never been cast off but is taken to be with Christ, and receives glory in heaven. It is clearly to the heavenly bride, and not to the earthly, that the scene in the Revelation refers.
We can now understand why, after the rejoicings which took place on the fall of Babylon, the twenty four elders are never again seen. As representing the redeemed, they consisted partly of "the Church of the firstborn," that is, believers baptized into one body with Christ, His bride, and partly of the "just men made perfect," or the saints of the older dispensations. Until the marriage of the Lamb these formed one company. But now that His wife has made herself ready, they must separate. Some of those whom the elders represent belong to the Church, the Lamb's wife, and some do not. They are now, therefore, divided into different companies, each to receive a distinct blessing.
The blessing of the Old Testament saints is afterwards named, but John's vision was naturally riveted on the glories of the wife. "And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousnesses of saints." (v. 8.) The use of the plural here shows that this raiment is not the righteousness imputed to all believers, but the righteous deeds of the saints, wrought in them by the Spirit of God, and now displayed as the covering and glory of the Church. The thing is stated in an abstract way to suit the figure, but is individually applied in the epistles. Before this time believers will have been manifested at the tribunal of Christ, their works scrutinized, and a reward, proportioned to their faithfulness, bestowed. Each saint will appear with Christ arrayed in the righteousness He has wrought; the trials of faith, often so hard to bear down here, will "be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:7.)
What a contrast between the scarlet and purple, the gold, and precious stones and pearls, with which the harlot dazzled the eyes of the world, and the white robe, the mark of God's approval, in which it is granted to the wife to appear at the revelation of Jesus Christ! The splendour of the harlot, though "highly esteemed among men, is abomination in the sight of God." On the other hand, the very deeds that drew down the scorn, the hatred, and the persecution of the world, are owned by God, and given for the adornment of the Lamb's wife throughout eternity.
"And he says unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he says unto me, These are the true sayings of God." (v. 9.) Here, then, are two classes. The Church is the Lamb's wife, but besides her there are persons "called unto the marriage supper" John the Baptist said, "He that has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, which stands and hears Him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled." (John 3:29.) These words, though spoken of the earthly bride, are equally true of the heavenly. They show that there are saints who rejoice in the bridegroom's voice, yet are not of the bride. The Old Testament saints were, in this respect, like John the Baptist. They are not of the bride. Heirs of glory and immortality, blessed according to the riches of God's grace, still their relationship with Christ and their portion in heaven are not the same as those of the Church. Friends of the bridegroom they will, of course, be, and will rejoice greatly because of His voice. Their hearts will go forth in praise and gladness at the marriage supper of the Lamb. This is their blessed portion in connection with the bridegroom whom they love. But to the Church will belong the supreme, unapproachable joy of being acknowledged as His wife, the special object of His affections, presented to himself without "spot or wrinkle, or any such thing," loved and cherished even as His own flesh.
And here comes in a word to the conscience — "These are the true sayings of God." How such an assurance seems needed as a spur to our poor, halting faith! How apt we are, in contemplating so magnificent a destiny, to yield the assent of our intellects, while withholding the confidence of our hearts. What rapture would fill one souls, if these things were received, not only as doctrines, but as facts. How the brightest light of this world would pale before the splendour of this noonday sun. What down here could attract the heart that was really gazing by faith on this prospect of unclouded glory opened up to us in the heavens? What riches, what splendour, what pleasures, could allure the soul to earth, which had appropriated, through trust in God's word, the glories that belong to the Lamb's wife?
So overwhelming is this spectacle, that John, oppressed by the exceeding eight of glory, would fain render divine homage to the angel that showed him it. "And I fell at his feet to worship him; and he said unto me, See thou do it not; I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: Worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (v. 10.) God alone is the object of worship. The angel, however glorious, is only a ministering spirit, and here ranks himself with John as a "fellow servant." He is also the fellow-servant of all "that have the testimony of Jesus." This, in the book of Revelation, is the spirit of prophecy. In other portions of the Word the Holy Ghost speaks, but here the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus Himself for it is "the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass."
Christ's Coming with His Saints.
Revelation 19:11 to 20:3.
The marriage of the Lamb has hardly taken place when the grand spectacle for which all the previous history has formed the avenue suddenly bursts upon our sight. Terrible as the successive waves of judgment have been, they have led to no repentance. Man, as the billows have broken over him, has only hardened himself in iniquity, and blasphemed the God from whom these warnings came. Their terror has not roused him from his self-satisfaction and self-seeking. Life still runs its course as when Noah entered into the ark, or when God rained fire and brimstone from heaven upon the cities of the plain. Men eat and drink, marry and give in marriage, buy and sell, plant and build, till the very day that the Son of man appears "in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God."
And if such is the ordinary course of life even in this dreadful epoch, what will be the condition of the world politically and morally? A great war will be raging, with the holy Land for its battle-field and its prize. The prince of the Roman Empire, now strangely revivified, will have led his confederate forces into the country to perish on the field of Armageddon. The unbelieving portion of the Jews, who, under the false Christ, have re-established idolatry and entered into a league with the Roman confederacy, will be sustaining a siege of unexampled horrors from an enemy that has crossed the Euphrates and now threatens the total destruction of the nation. Behind this scene Satan will be at work, rising the antichrist as his tool to deceive the Jews, the head of the Roman Empire as his tool to corrupt the Gentiles, and both as his tools to persecute the faithful remnant who, in the very vortex of this raging wickedness and misery, are still crying, and looking to God for deliverance. And over all is God, still hidden, but unswervingly carrying out His own purposes, converting the machinations of His enemies and the wiles of Satan into pit-falls for their destruction, and instruments for the accomplishment of His own will.
It is only with one branch, either of the judgments or of the blessings, that the Revelation deals. Other Scriptures tell the fate of Gog, of the Assyrian, of the Edomites, and other neighbouring nations. This book describes only the judgment of the Roman prince and of the false Christ, who have cast so lurid a light over its earlier chapters. Other Scriptures tell the glories of the earthly Jerusalem and of restored Israel. This book describes only the glories of those who reign with Christ, and of the New Jerusalem, "descending out of heaven from God." We do indeed catch glimpses of the countless throng of Gentiles emerging from "the great tribulation," of the sealed remnant of Israel, and the victorious remnant of Judah, through momentary rifts in the dark clouds of judgment which have been rolling round us. These glimpses show how fully the word of God here is in with the word of God elsewhere. But the general object of the book is to supplement the truths already revealed, by fresh unfoldings of God's purposes. The Church held no place in the Old Testament teaching. It is, therefore, concerning the Church, and things connected with the Church, that the light of revelation is here specially given.
Now this book takes up the Church and its immediate connections in three aspects: the true Church, whose glory it shows in heaven as the Lamb's wife; the false church whose destruction it narrates in the fall of Babylon; and Latin Christendom, which, as the revived Roman Empire, at last destroys Babylon, and plunges into blasphemous infidelity and idolatry. It is of these things, scarcely touched in the Old Testament, that the book of Revelation treats. The fate of Babylon we have already seen: the coming of Christ, in its connection with the true Church and the Roman Empire, is now brought before us.
Christ's Glory and Army.
"And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns; and He had a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself. And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God." (vv. 11-13.) The great event for which the saints have been sighing, creation groaning, and even a shuddering world at one time looking, now at length takes place. Mounted on a white horse, the symbol of victorious power, Christ issues from the opened heavens. While, on earth, "they are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy, there is none that does good, no, not one," He comes as the Faithful and the True. The armies of the world were summoned by "unclean spirits," but "in righteousness He doth judge and make war." Coming in awful retribution, "His eyes are as a flame of fire;" while as King, He wears on His head "many crowns." But beyond all that man's eye can see, He has a glory and character of His own, incommunicable and incomprehensible, "a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself." Man as He is, He is also the Son of God, and thus a fulness resides in him which no mere creature intelligence can fathom.
Awful to relate, He is "clothed with a vesture dipped in blood," not the blood of atonement, but the blood of judgment. He is red in His apparel because, as He says in Isaiah, "I have trodden the wine-press alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment. For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come." (Isa. 64:3-4.) It is a terrible picture, but not more terrible than true. He is, as in the days of His humiliation, "the Word of God," the perfect exponent of God's mind. Then He came "full of grace and truth," laid His glory by, stooped to death, and was made a propitiation for sins. He has since sent forth His ambassadors, praying men, in His stead, to be reconciled to God. But men have scorned and slighted his invitations, despised and persecuted His messengers. And now the same "Word of God" comes again, to declare and execute God's will, no longer in grace, but in judgment.
Even now, indeed, His love is as great as ever, and the blessings He bestows as worthy of Himself. But they must be brought in by judgment. Men, having refused to submit to His grace, must be made to submit to His power. Then shall the world be filled with praise. Then shall the song burst forth, "Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands: sing forth the honour of His name: make His praise glorious. Say unto God, how terrible art thou in thy works! through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee. All the earth doth worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name." (Ps. 66:1-4.)
But Christ does not come alone. "And the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in. fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations and He shall rule them with a rod of iron and He treads the wine of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." (vv. 14, 15.) These armies in heaven are "clothed in fine linen, white and clean, which, as we have lately seen, symbolizes "the righteousnesses of saints," and, like Christ, are seated on white horses, types of victorious power. This identifies them with the Church, which is clothed in white raiment, and is to reign with Christ. That it must be the Church is clear, too, because Christ is now coming to "smite the nations," and to "rule them with a rod of iron." But He has promised the Christian overcomer to give him "power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers, even as I received of my Father." So likewise, in describing the war of the ten kings against the Lamb, it is said, those who "are with Him are called, and chosen, and faithful." (Rex. 22:14.) Now this can only refer to saints, for though angels are "chosen and faithful," they are not, and could not be, spoken of as "called." Calling, on the contrary, is the special characteristic of the saints, who are constantly spoken of as "called saints," or saints by calling. It is, therefore, the Church, with the addition, perhaps, of the Old Testament saints, that here accompanies Christ as the armies in heaven.
The Church is associated with its Head in everything, in suffering, in life, in judgment, in dominion, in glory. Like Christ, it is not of this world, and in the world it must have tribulation. But if believers suffer with Christ, it is because they are quickened together with Him, and "He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken their mortal bodies." They are, therefore, one with Him in life as well as in suffering. And being thus associated with Him, He makes them sharers of all He is and has. If He will judge the world and angels, the saints shall judge the world, and judge angels also. If He will rule the nations with a rod of iron, the saints will rule them with a rod of iron also. If He will appear in glory to the world, the saints "shall appear with Him in glory" also. If He reigns, the saints who suffer shall reign with him also. Here He comes forth with a sharp sword out of His mouth, to tread "the wine-press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God," and the saints, as the armies of heaven, come forth with Him also.
"And He has on his vesture and on His thigh a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords." (v. 16.) How vain are all man's efforts to resist God. "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Jehovah and against His Anointed." The armies of the beast have been summoned to "make war with the Lamb." To such giddy heights of madness can human pride and presumption climb. But God's decree remains unchanged: "Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion." In spite of all man's feeble efforts He has "a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords;" for God has "given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:9-11.)
Judgment of the beast and false prophet.
"And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great." (vv. 17, 18.) God prepared a great supper before, a banquet of grace and love, and sent out his servants to call them that were hidden. For near two thousand years the table has been spread, and still men turn a deaf ear, and go, one to his farm, and another to his merchandise. Nay, the remnant have taken His servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slain them. But God will not be mocked for ever. The day of judgment has now dawned. It is not now, as with Israel, armies sent forth to destroy the murderers and burn up their city. It is Christ Himself coming to slay them with the sword of His mouth. And now another supper is spread, the supper of the great God, and the flesh of kings and captains, the despisers alike of grace and judgment, is the dreadful repast. An angel, standing in the seat of supreme authority, bids the guests, "all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven," to come and revel in the feast. One's heart sickens at the horrid sight, and one can only say, with Abraham, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
And now comes the great catastrophe, the end of man's daring machinations when he madly raises his puny hand against God. "And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him that sat on the horse, and against His army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of Him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh." (vv. 19-21.) Man dares to defy God now; but how fearful the arrogance to which his pride will reach, when he goes forth "to make war against Him that sits on the horse!" Yet "these are the true sayings of God." This is what man will surely do. But how speedy and inevitable the end! As in creation, "He spake and it was done, He commanded and it stood fast," so here, in an instant, the wicked is consumed with the spirit of His mouth, and destroyed with the brightness of His coming. There is no campaign here, no long, doubtful struggle, with victory inclining first to one side and then to the other; for as Isaiah says, when describing the destruction of another adversary by the Lord's advent "Every battle of the warrior is with confused noise and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire." (Isa. 9:5.) The armies of the beast are slain, and given to the fowls of heaven. But a more awful fate is reserved for the beast and his wicked coadjutor.
Two men have been taken to heaven without tasting death. Two men will be cast into hell without tasting death. A thousand years before the. dead are judged, a thousand years before Satan is finally punished, the leaders of man's guilt and blasphemy will be "cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone." Other companies will follow both in the blessing and the doom. When the Lord comes for His saints, before the time we are now looking at, all believers living on the earth will be caught up to be with Him in heaven. When the Lord judges the nations, shortly after the time we are now looking at, all those whom He places on the left hand will be banished at once "into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." But as there is something specially blessed in the lot of the two men singly caught up into God's presence, so there is something specially ghastly in the fate of the two men singly cast into the lake of fire. There is an awful isolation in their doom which oppresses the imagination. And yet this is the destiny of men whom the popular voice has exalted into gods, men whose wisdom and power have been the theme of universal admiration, men who have only carried out the common desire of our fallen nature to forget God, and work according to their own will.
There are, as we have said, other judgments on the nations before Christ's throne is established and his people fully delivered. Three epochs are fixed — the thousand two hundred and sixty-days already named, and two others beginning from the same period. "And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that makes desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waits, and comes to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days." (Dan. 12:11-12.) There are, therefore, three stages in the deliverance, one thirty days, and the other seventy-five days, after the close of the three and a half years. But since the only judgment here named is that of the beast and his confederates, it would be beside our purpose to enter into the other events.
The Revelation, however, draws aside the curtain, and discloses a series of scenes not named in other scriptures. The war in heaven showed the part which Satan was playing as accuser of the brethren. Afterwards, however hidden behind his human masks, he is the real instigator of all the horrible wickedness and cruel persecution of the saints which his deluded agents carry on in the world. Till now God has left him at large; and such is the power which he has gained by his lies over the hearts of men, that he is called the prince and the god of this world. But now that the true Prince is come, and God claims His rights as the Creator and Governor of mankind, Satan must be bound. If the true wife is to be acknowledged, the harlot must be judged; if the true Prince is to be acknowledged, the usurper must be put aside. "And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a. great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled; and after that he must be loosed a little season." (Rev. 20:1-3.)
Satan is not very frequently mentioned in the Old Testament; but enough is said there to show his real character. He is the persistent hater of God and good. He first appears as the deceiver of men, then as their accuser before God, and in both cases his falsehood rivals his malice. Hence our Lord says of him, that "when he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it." (John 8:44.) As God is the author of truth, Satan is the author of falsehood; as God is the author of light, Satan is the author of darkness. But alas! his deceits have so blinded men's eyes, that even when the light shines they love darkness rather than light. He so deluded the Gentiles, that they worshipped devils instead of God; he so deluded the Jews, that they clamoured for the blood of their own Messiah, and crucified the One who alone could bring them blessing. Since then he has gone about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour. He is "the god of this world," "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience." He has infused his poisonous corruptions into Christianity, and will at last bring in that iniquity and blasphemy which draw down so dreadful a doom on the beast and the false prophet. While he is permitted to go to and fro in the earth there is no safety for man. At the beginning of Christ's reign therefore he is bound, and allowed to deceive the nations no more.
This is not, as some have thought the result of the spread of truth. So far from truth spreading, it is at this period all but extinguished, and the most hideous wickedness is corning in like a flood. Satan's power is never so great as just before his imprisonment. Instead of being overthrown by the triumphs of the gospel, he is suddenly arrested in the very climax of his disastrous sway over the hearts of men by the personal advent of the Lord himself. The blessings brought to the world by this advent come, not gradually, but in a moment. It is suddenly that Satan is bound, suddenly that the beast and false prophet are destroyed, suddenly that God's faithful people are redeemed, suddenly that creation "is delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God." Then will come a season of real blessing for the earth and for mankind. But all Scripture describes its advent, not as a gradual dawn slowly expunging the darkness from the sky, but as a vivid burst of light revealing and banishing the thick gloom that overspreads the nations, and then shining in calm splendour over a redeemed and emancipated world.
The Millennial Reign.
The reign of Christ is often spoken of in Scripture. Its splendours and blessings, as affecting Israel, shine prominently out in the Old Testament, and stand clearly marked in the background of the New. They have shot occasional gleams of sunshine even through the thick gloom of judgment which envelopes this book. Here, however, in consistency with the general character of the Revelation, we see rather the retributive than the beneficent side of the Messiah's kingdom. "He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet." The first act of the reign was the judgment of the living, of which we had one awful example in the beast and his armies. Its last act will be the judgment of the dead and the casting of Death and Hades into the lake of fire.
The earthly glories of the Messiah's kingdom are, as we have said, merely seen in transient glimpses throughout this book. But the heavenly glories, about which other Scriptures are silent, are more fully detailed. Believers are said to be "heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ." When Christ reigns, therefore, it will not be alone, but in company with His fellow-heirs. This is the feature of the reign now brought before us. "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them; and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and [those] 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. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection; on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." (vv. 4-6.)
Three classes are here associated with Christ in His reign. The first is not described "I saw thrones, and they sat upon them." Who are these? None to whom this could refer have been named since the armies of heaven came forth with Christ. It can only be to these, therefore, that allusion is here made. Indeed, the reason why they are not more fully described is probably that none other could be meant. These armies of heaven, as we have already seen, consist, wholly or in part, of the church. But the Old Testament saints may, perhaps, also be included, The garment of white linen is the special bridal costume of the Lamb's wife, but as it signifies "the righteousnesses of saints," it might adorn also the saints of the older dispensations. It is not, indeed, said that these shall reign with Christ, but comparatively little is revealed as to their distinctive portion in the heavenly glories, and the silence of the Old Testament is not supplied by the teachings of the New. The Lamb's wife is the Church, and only the Church; but it is possible that the older saints are included in the armies of heaven which accompany Christ and in the first of the three classes which share His reign.
In this reign the Church, whether alone or not, obtains its long-promised portion. Believers, fully conformed to Christ's image, will share His dominion over "the world to come." Such are the riches of God's grace bestowed upon all who have rested in Jesus as a Saviour. After enumerating the most loathsome vices and crimes, the apostle says to the Corinthians, "And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:11.) And of such it is declared that they are "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ," that they are made "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." No wonder the apostle prays that we "may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge." But besides this first class there are two others. On the opening of the fifth seal were seen "under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held." (Rev. 6:9.) This is the second class, here described as "the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of' Jesus, and for the word of God." These had cried to God to judge and avenge their blood on them that dwell on the earth. They had white robes given them, but "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."
These fellow-servants and brethren of the earlier martyrs form the third class of those who have "part in the first resurrection." It consists of those slain during the great tribulation for refusing to worship the beast and his image, saints whom we have already seen by anticipation in heaven, who having "gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God."
The proper hope of these two later classes of saints was not heavenly, but earthly. They were called after the Church, or heavenly dispensation, had passed away, and called to look for Christ's return to reign over the earth. Of this they witnessed; for this they died. But by their martyrdom they lost the very hope for which they had been martyred; and as the heavenly hope was not theirs, what was to be their portion? To the last class "a voice from heaven" had proclaimed, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth; yea, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, and their works do follow them." We now see what this blessedness is. Instead of the earthly portion they have lost, they are made to share the heavenly portion of the Church, and perhaps the saints of the older dispensations, as joint heirs with Christ. Truly a blessed exchange! For God delights to give, not according to the measure even of His own calling, but beyond all measure except the abounding fulness of His own grace.
These three classes, then, live and reign with Christ. At this point the book lays aside for the moment its usual symbolic garb, and appears in a naked simplicity of language which leaves room for no misunderstanding. It says that Christ comes to judge the world; that after destroying His enemies and binding Satan, He reigns for a thousand years; and that in this dominion the three classes of heavenly saints live and reign with Him, while the rest of the dead live not again until the thousand years are finished. This shows that the saints here named had, for the most part at least, been dead, and had now been raised. For if they had been only disembodied spirits, in what would they have differed from "the rest of the dead"? The difference is, not in the fact that their spirits lived, for this was common to both, but in the fact that their bodies had been raised.
Hence it goes on to say, "This is the first resurrection," showing that there is more than one resurrection, and that these persons who live and reign with Christ are raised in the first. It adds, "Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection; on such the second death has no power, but they shall bc priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." No language could be clearer. It is evident that there are two resurrections — the first of believers before the thousand years' reign, and the second of unbelievers after the thousand years' reign. If this does not mean a resurrection of the body, where in Scripture is the resurrection of the body taught? The theological chemistry which could evaporate the teaching of this passage could equally evaporate the teaching of the others, or indeed of any passage on any subject. The Church having through its worldliness lost the present hope of the Lord's return, began to look for it only at the end of the world. Hence the doctrine of a universal resurrection and judgment at that period received general acceptance, and theology sought to manipulate Scripture into accordance with this doctrine. But no manipulation can destroy the plain meaning of a passage like this, which shows that there are two resurrections — one to life, the other to judgment and that the first precedes the second by a period of a thousand years.
Other scriptures show that the first resurrection takes place when Christ comes for His saints. "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thess. 4:16-17.) And again, "Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the lust trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (1 Cor. 15:51-52.) These passages show that the first resurrection takes place when the Lord comes for His living saints, and that this was to be the present hope of even the generation of Christians then on earth. Hence our Lord says, "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that, when He comes and knocks, they may open unto him immediately. (Luke 12:35-36.) And Paul commends the Thessalonian saints because they had "turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven." (1 Thess. 1:9-10.)
This is the great scene of the first resurrection, which takes place before the judgments and sorrows recorded in this bock. It includes all of the first class, all the saints, who, as represented by the four and twenty elders, are seen around the throne of God in glorified bodies, while the judgments are visiting the world. But the other two classes who share this resurrection suffer martyrdom during these judgments. Their resurrection is therefore a sort of supplemental act to the great scene already described. It is symbolized, at least partly, in the raising of the two witnesses. It is not said that these two classes of saints form a part of the bride; for this is the blessed distinction of the Church alone; but like the rest of the saints who have part in this resurrection, they are "blessed and holy," are freed from the power of the "second death," are "priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
Satan loosed a little season.
The blessings of the earth during the Messiah's reign, the fulfilment of the prophecies to Abraham and to David, the removal of the curse on creation, the new covenant with Israel and Judah; these and other subjects of deep interest are abundantly treated of in the prophets, and are alluded to in the New Testament. But they are all omitted here. The glories of the heavenly Jerusalem and the heavenly bride are recorded; those of the earthly Jerusalem and the earthly bride are passed over in silence. For in this book the earth is always a scene of judgment. And now a very solemn fact is mentioned. "And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them." (vv. 7-9.)
Such is man, and such is Satan. A thousand years confinement in the bottomless pit has not changed the character of the deceiver. A thousand years' blessedness under Christ's rule has not changed the nature which greedily listens to the deceiver's voice. Gog and Magog are here used in a wider sense than in Ezekiel, and their invasion differs in time and details, though agreeing in character and object, with that which he foretells. Ezekiel predicts an incursion by a great northern power called Gog, which, from certain geographical indications, is easily identified with Russia. In the Revelation, however, Gog and Magog are used to designate the nations, not merely from the north, but from all parts, "the four quarters of the earth." Again, the invasion named by Ezekiel is at the beginning of Christ's reign; that in the Revelation at the end. The hosts in Ezekiel, too, fall on the mountains, and their bodies are buried; whereas the forces assembled in the Revelation are devoured by fire from heaven.
The judgment is instantaneous. Christ's reign is a reign of righteousness, during which evil is not tolerated as now, but promptly crushed. Fire from heaven here, as with Sodom and Gomorrah, overwhelms the gathered hordes, and thus in hideous and hopeless ruin ends the last vain attempt of man to act in independence of God.
The people of Israel are here owned as "the saints," and Jerusalem as "the beloved city." Taken in connection with Old Testament promises and prophecies this presents no difficulties. "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King." (Ps. 48:2.) "They shall call thee, The city of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations." (Isa. 60:14-15.) "Be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people." (Isa. 65:18-19.) It is only when these clear statements are discredited, and an interpretation contrary to their plain meaning adopted, that difficulties begin to appear.
This rebellion against Christ is Satan's last triumph. and the last outbreak of man's enmity to God. We have seen how the nations are at once swept away by the fiery tempest which bursts upon them. We now see the final doom of their malignant deceiver. "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and [they] shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." (v. 10.) He had previously been shut up in "the bottomless pit;" now he is cast into the "lake of fire" that awful abode into which the beast and the false prophet were hurled a thousand years before; that "everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels," to which the "cursed" ones, placed on the left hand of the Son of man in His judgment of the living nations, are hopelessly consigned. There "they" (that is, the beast and the false prophet as well as Satan) "shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." What do these words mean? Setting aside this book, the New Testament only uses them in ascribing praise to God in such texts as, To whom be glory for ever and ever." In the Revelation they are applied to the reign of Christ but their commonest use is to designate the eternal existence of God, who is repeatedly spoken of as the One "that lives for ever and ever" Why is it so used? Clearly because Scripture language contains no phrase equally strong to describe continued, immutable existence. Now, if the strongest phrase that can be applied to the eternal existence of God Himself is here used with respect to the torments of Satan and the companions of his doom, it is surely meant that these sufferings are eternal in the fullest and largest sense of the word, everlasting, enduring without cessation and without end.
No doubt the phrase means "to the ages of ages," and when applied, as in the Old Testament, or in reference to Christ's kingdom, to the things of this world, it means, of course, during the ages of this world; that is, as long as the world lasts. But in the passage before us this application is impossible, since at this very time the world comes to an end, the punishment of Satan being at the close of the thousand years' reign, which is the last stage in the world's history. No limitation therefore to the term of this world's existence is here possible. The words are spoken on the threshold of a boundless eternity over which no measuring line of dates and epochs is thrown. In that eternity the self-existent God is declared to live "for ever and ever." In that eternity the torment of the lost is said to endure "for ever and ever." Surely it becomes those saved by grace, instead of replying against God, silently to bow our heads before this unfathomable mystery, and adore the goodness which has delivered us by such a ransom from so fearful a doom.
Nor are these words used of the three great offenders alone. Those who worship the beast and his image "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 ascends up for ever and ever, and they have no rest day nor night." (Rev. 14:10-11.) These, many of whom are "slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse," are raised for judgment after the world has "fled away," so that any limitation of the punishment by the ages of the world's existence is, in their case as in the other, impossible. Their doom therefore, like that of the beast and the false prophet, is an eternity of suffering. And this surely removes all question as to the sense in which the other phrases used on this subject are to be interpreted. "These shall go away into eternal punishment" must mean the same punishment which others, cast into the same lake of fire, undergo, and this is, as we have seen, in the fullest sense of the words, "for ever and ever.
It is easy to quibble about phrases. "Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched," is, no doubt, a figure; but is it a figure of transient or of unending suffering? Does our Lord in thrice repeating these solemn words mean that, though the worm dies not, the people on whom the worm feeds do die? that, though the fire is not quenched, the people who are tormented in it cease to exist? Surely this is trifling with the words of God. What does a man sentenced to a limited term of imprisonment care whether the prison in which he is confined is a permanent or temporary structure? What does a man condemned to be stretched on the rack care whether the rack will last for an indefinite time, or will be destroyed immediately after he has been tortured? All they are concerned about is the time during which they suffer. So, if the worm and the fire are figures of punishment, how can it affect those doomed to a limited period of such suffering to know that after they have ceased to suffer the instruments of their torment will exist for ever? If words are to be understood in their ordinary sense, the torment spoken of is eternal, unending, as the existence of God Himself.
The Resurrection of Judgment.
This understanding of the words "for ever and ever" throws an appalling gloom over the scene which next rises before us. Christ "must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet." The judgment of the quick has already been completed. It only remains that the dead should be summoned before His tribunal also. The believing dead have had their part in the resurrection to life a thousand years before the end of the world, but "the rest of the dead" are still, throughout the thousand years' reign, in their graves, for they live not again until the thousand years are finished. Now, however, is come "the time of the dead that they should be judged."
"And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before [not "God," but] the throne; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and Death and Hades delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death [even the lake of fire]. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." (vv. 11-15.)
The end of the world is now come. Before the face of Him that sits upon the great white throne, the earth and the heaven fled away. Nature is dissolved, the present order of creation disappears, to make way for that new creation which God will bring in upon the ruins of the old. The time has come when "the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat. The earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burned up." (2 Peter 3:10.) This is the last act in "the day of the Lord," and at this supreme moment we have now arrived. All that man has been living for, the world and his own works in it, his riches, his greatness, the mighty monuments of his skill, the cities he has built, the empires he has founded, all on which his pride and his affections were fixed, vanish as a waking dream — "there was found no place for them."
But though man's works are gone, though the very earth has melted away, man himself has not perished. Those yet in their graves belong to Christ, not, alas! for salvation, but for judgment. "Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given Him." (John 17:2.) Some are given to Him that He may bestow upon them eternal life; but He has power over all flesh; all is His. He has not redeemed all, but He has purchased all the lost as well as the saved. Thus Peter speaks of false teachers, "who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction." (2 Peter 2:1.) His rights, by virtue of the cross, extend to all, and all must bow the knee to Him "of things [or beings] in heaven, and beings in earth, and beings under the earth" — all heavenly, earthly, and infernal, must own His lordship. The redeemed own it in grace; the rejecters of grace must own it in judgment.
He has bought their bodies as well as their souls, and now the hour is come in which all that are still in their graves must hear His voice and come forth to the resurrection of judgment. to be judged according to the stainless purity of the great white throne. On that throne Christ, not God, is seated; for though God is "the Judge of all" (Heb. 12:23), He "has committed all judgment unto the Son," and that "because He is the Son of man." (John 5:22, 27.) It is God's judgment, because Christ, as the perfect man, perfectly executes God's righteousness; but it is before "the Son of man" that "the dead, small and great," are here arraigned.
And now the great assize begins. "The books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the book of life." These are figures found in Daniel and drawn from the proceedings of human tribunals. There are two books — one containing the works of the dead, for they were "judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works," the other registering the names of those ordained to eternal life. The dead now raised may be divided into two classes, those who died before the reign of Christ, and those who died during that reign. As to the first, their fate is painfully evident. "They that are Christ's" are raised at His coming for His saints. Those who die in the Lord between his coming for His saints and His coming to reign have also part in the first resurrection. All, therefore, that have died "in the Lord" from the beginning of the world to Christ's reign, have already been raised a thousand years, and "the rest of the dead" consists of persons who were not "in the Lord." These are judged according to their works. Their names cannot be in the book of life. Its silence can only witness against them. For them, therefore, there can be nothing but the second death; for "whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
As to the other class, those who die during the reign of Christ, Scripture is not so explicit. We read in Isaiah — "I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that has not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner, being an hundred years old, shall be accursed… For as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands." (Isa. 65:19-22.) It is clear, then, that death during the millennium will, in certain cases, be inflicted as a judgment, and of course sinners thus cut off will be raised for condemnation. But is it equally clear that death will happen only as a judgment? Doubtless there will be great longevity in Israel but we are not told that this extends to the Gentiles, or that even in Israel death is excluded except as a penalty. And if there is nothing in Isaiah conclusively proving that believers will not die during this period, neither is there anything in the Revelation showing that their names may not be found in the book of life when raised in the final resurrection.
It is thought indeed by some, that all, if judged according to their works, must be lost. But in the judgment of the quick described in Matthew 25, the Gentiles are judged according to their works, and yet some are saved. Indeed this is always the principle of God's action, for it is said that the dead "shall come forth, they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of judgment." Now how can any be said to "have done good," and not to "have done evil"? Merely because their evil deeds are blotted out by the blood of Christ, and only the deeds wrought in them by the Spirit are reckoned. This principle would apply to believers dying — if any do die — during the millennium. Where Scripture says so little, one should speak cautiously; but it seems a somewhat strong inference to conclude that only the wicked die during Christ's reign, or that, because the judgment is according to man's works, none can be saved. The statement that "whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" suggests, at least, a different conclusion.
We repeat, however, that if any are saved in this resurrection, it can only be believers dying during the millennial age. Its general, if not universal, character is, therefore, that of doom. It is the solemn knell of the second, the eternal, death. The countless millions of sinners who have perished in their sins, the millions who have heard the word of God's salvation and rejected it, the millions who have been "almost persuaded," but not quite; the millions who have said, "We will hear thee again of this matter," and then turned away to indulge in their lusts; the amiable, the upright, the religious, the self- righteous, who have been too good for Christ — all will be there. Not one can escape. "The sea gave up the dead which were in it." "Death and Hades," the resting-place of the body and the home of the spirit, "delivered up the dead which were in them, and they were judged every man according to their works." Nor are these merely the works seen by man, for in that day "God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ." (Rom. 2:16.) To all, except, perhaps, the class already named, there is one fearful doom. "Death and Hades," it says, "were cast into the lake of fire," all their crowded vaults emptied into this gulf of endless woe. "This is the second death."
It is strange that these words, which seem to bid an eternal farewell to hope, should be urged as an argument against the eternity of punishment. True, fire is a symbol of destruction, but destruction does not necessarily involve annihilation. In this case it has not this force, for the beast and the false prophet, as well as Satan, were cast into the lake of fire, but instead of being annihilated, are there "tormented day and night for ever and ever." Again, there is nothing in the second death which implies annihilation. Where in Scripture is death used with this meaning? Does a man dead in trespasses and sins mean a man who does not exist? Does the first death put an end to conscious being? The rich man and Lazarus, to say nothing of the thief on the cross, are a sufficient answer to this question. On what ground, then, can it be argued, in spite of the plain declaration that the lost shall be tormented "for ever and ever," that the second death means annihilation? Alas that men should rather seek to blindfold themselves to the horrors of the coming wrath, than escape it by casting themselves on the infinite riches of divine grace!
The Eternal State.
"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea." (v. 1.) These words are taken from God's promise to Israel: "Behold, I create new heavens, and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy." (Isa. 65:17-18.) But though similar language is used, the New Testament vastly expands its meaning. The state of things in the millennial age so differs from that previously existing, that it is figuratively described as a new heaven and a new earth; but the context shows that the change is only from the present condition of the world to the infinitely more blessed condition it will assume, both physically and morally, under the reign of Christ. This is the scope of Old Testament prophecy; but the New Testament brings us to the shores of the boundless eternity which stretches beyond, and bids us gaze on the new heaven and the new earth of this unending age.
Peter describes believers as "looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens, being on fire, shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat. Nevertheless," he adds, "we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness." (2 Peter 3:12-13.) In the millennial earth righteousness reigns; but wickedness, though repressed and judged, still exists. It can hardly be said therefore that righteousness yet dwells on earth; that is, has the earth for its suited, settled abode. Moreover the day spoken of by Peter is after "the heavens, being on fire, shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat." It is not therefore in the millennium, but after both the millennium and the world itself have vanished away. During Christ's reign the physical condition of the earth will be greatly improved; but in the age spoken of in the Revelation it is entirely altered. Before Him that sat on the great white throne "the earth and the heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them." Now all is new. "There was no more sea." This implies a total reconstruction of the globe and its atmosphere, as well as of the physical organization of those inhabiting it. These new heavens and new earth are therefore quite different from those named by Isaiah.
Another striking feature may be noticed. In the verses we are now to look at the Lamb is not mentioned, only God. This is quite different from the millennial earth, where Christ reigns, having had it put in subjection to Him as Son of man. The order of events sketched by Paul will explain this. He says, "Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For He has put all things under His feet. But when He said, All things are put under Him, it is manifest that He is excepted, which did put all things under Him. And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." (1 Cor. 15:21-28.)
Now this passage explains the order of events. Death having entered by man, Christ takes His place as man to bring in resurrection. He Himself rises the first-fruits of the new creation, then His people at his coming. His reign follows, lasting till every enemy is subdued. In this reign He is still the subject man, receiving dominion and power from God, and exercising it in obedience to God. The last enemy subdued is death. Now this is the stage at which we have arrived in the Revelation — His reign has been sketched, his enemies subdued, and last of all death itself defeated and destroyed. What comes then? Christ yields up the kingdom to the Father, and God, not the Father, but God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is "all in all."
When God is adored as Creator (Rev. 4) the Son is unseen; God alone appears. And as in the past eternity, before the first heaven and the first earth were created, so in the future eternity, after the first heaven and the first earth have passed away. Then again God will be all in all; not exercising His dominion through a man, even the Son in man's nature, but in His own eternal sovereignty as God. This is just what we find in the brief description of the eternal state given in the Revelation.
In this eternal state the Church, symbolized as the holy city, and also as the bride, has a glorious place: "And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God." (vv. 2, 3.) It is said of the new Jerusalem in the millennium that "the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it." (Rev. 22:8.) In the eternal state the Lamb is not seen; for Christ has given up the kingdom to the Father, and God is all in all. But the city will still be, as during the millennium, God's dwelling-place; for when it is seen coming down out of heaven there comes "a great voice," saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them."
Paul declares believers to be "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone; in whom all the building, fitly framed together, grows unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." (Eph. 2:20-22.) The Church then is designed to be God's dwelling-place. Now it is "an habitation of God through the Spirit." In the millennial age "the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it" In the eternal state God, who is all in all, will make it His tabernacle. Such is the marvellous destiny of the Church. It is a "mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known, by the Church, the manifold wisdom of God." (Eph. 3:9-10.)
But the Church will also retain its glory as the Lamb's wife. True, God will then be all in all, and to this end Christ, as man, will have given up his rule into the Father's hands. But Christ, though not administering God's government as man, will never cease to be man, and will never cease to love the Church, "which He has purchased with His Own blood." He will still love her as his own flesh, and in the new heaven and the new earth she will still appear "prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."
The figure of the Church as God's tabernacle recalls the camp in the wilderness, where God, descending from heaven, had His dwelling-place constructed after the heavenly pattern, in the midst of Israel, thus marking them as His people and showing Himself to be their God. The resemblance, however, only extends to the manner in which God dwelt among them in a tabernacle suited to his own glory. In other respects all is contrast. In the wilderness were sin and death, weary wandering and unsatisfied expectations, distance from God and trials of the journey. In this eternal scene of bliss sin and death are unknown, or remembered only as vanquished foes. Here is no more wandering, for all have entered into the rest that remains for the people of God; no more expectation, for every longing of the heart has found complete satisfaction. Distance from God is no more known, for the glorified saints are fitted for the presence of Him who is "of purer eyes than to behold evil." And the trials and sorrows of the wilderness have been left for the unclouded rest and joy of the desired land.
How wonderful the change! "And [God] shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And He said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful." (vv. 4, 5.) What marvels are condensed in these few words! When God created the world and man He saw that all was very good. Alas! the deceiver entered, and fearful havoc was soon made in this fair scene. Sin fell with its withering blight upon creation, and this world, acting in independence of God, became a wilderness of death and sorrow, of tears and pain. But now the Son of God has been made man to redeem a people for Himself and for God, to save them from their sins, and to bring them into that dependence from which alone happiness can flow. Here we see the blessed and eternal fruits of His toil — God, in His infinite holiness, able to take His place in this new creation, and to shed around the blessings of His love to a happy and dependent people; all tears wiped away; death with its dark shadow blotted out of the scene; pain and sorrow for ever gone. Such is the blessed lot of those among whom God can dwell. How different from the ruin and misery of a world which knows Him not. Do our hearts answer, with a sigh, that such riches of glory are beyond our powers to conceive? How graciously God stoops to meet our weakness and reassure our faith! "And He said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful."
How, then, are these blessings to be secured? "And He said unto me, It is done [or, "they are done"]. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcomes shall inherit all [or, "these"] things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son." (vv. 6, 7.) How cheering, after these unspeakable glories have flashed before our eyes, to be told that the Eternal One, the first and the last, is pledged to accomplish them on our behalf, and that they are ours freely. The second death is the portion of man by nature; for "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." But to the thirsting one, whose parched soul feels its need of the gift of God, is given "of the fountain of the water of life freely." "Whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst," says our Lord; "but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:14.)
There are two conditions, and two only — the thirst and the conquest. "He that overcomes shall inherit these things." But does not this imply some power, some merit, on the part of man? Not at all. "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith." (1 John 5:4.) Israel overcame Pharaoh's host, not by their own strength, but by God's. To us, as to them, the word is, "Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord." (Exod. 14:13.) When Satan accused the brethren before God, "they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony;" that is, by their faith in the work of Christ and the word of God. And so against all the array of adversaries that Satan and circumstances may gather against us, "in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us." (Rom. 8:37.)
The Eternal One has pledged his word that they who thirst, and put their trust in him, poor, empty sinners who come to draw from His infinite fulness, shall inherit all these surpassing blessings and glories which it is the delight of his heart to bestow. Alas! however, there is another side to this picture. "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone which is the second death." (v. 8.) How solemn the contrast. We are now in Gods eternity, alter all the ages of this world have rolled their course; in that trackless ocean of time which stretches out into the immeasurable future. In this limitless expanse two classes, each living, each fixed in its present condition "for ever and ever," stand before us. The thirsting one whose lips sought the water of life, who leaned on the might of God for victory, shall inherit nameless glories and blessedness in His presence for ever. The unbeliever, the doubting one, who refused the message of God's grace, or, left to himself, pursued the desires and follies of his own corrupt heart, will receive eternal perdition, the unending misery of the second death.
Not one ray of light struggles through the blackness of this dense cloud. It is the final, irrevocable doom. Restoration and annihilation are the wrecker's fires by which Satan seeks to deceive his victims till they are dashed to pieces on the rocks of eternal judgment. God holds out the steady light of His word to save men from these false guides, and to direct their eyes to the true channel, His own way of salvation, by which alone they can escape the wrath to come. He has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, and still the voice of Him who died for the lost goes pleadingly forth, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and. are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Thus in hopeless gloom for the unbeliever, and in cloudless glory for the believer; ends this brief vision of the eternal state. "The second death" shuts in its jaws the refusers of grace, those who "loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil." The presence of God, including in itself all other blessings, sheds an eternal radiance of joy and glory over those who have believed in Him. Scripture furnishes no other light with respect to this period, this boundless stretch of future existence in which God is all in all. We are set for a moment on its shores to gaze into its fathomless immensity, permitted to catch one glimpse of its surpassing glories and one wail from its unending woes; then the curtain is dropped, and the prophet's vision turns away to other scenes.
The New Jerusalem.
Revelation 21:9 to 22:5.
"And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife." (v. 9.) The sudden change of scene and person shows that this is not a continuation of the vision we have just been looking at. A new person comes as John's guide, perhaps the same that had shown him the harlot before, but not the one in whose presence he had just been. This guide opens to him a new sight; one, indeed, which he had already beheld in a general way in his vision of the eternal state, but whose detailed glories are now to be fully unfolded to his eyes.
One great feature of the seven vials was the fall of Babylon, which prepared the way for the marriage of the Lamb, and the appearance of the bride. The angels, therefore, who poured out these vials are fitting messengers sent to show, first the judgment of the false wife, amid next the glories of the true. It was one of them which came to John, and talked with him, saying, "Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sits upon many waters." (Rev. 17:1.) It is one of them which now again comes and talks with him, saying, "Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife." The similarity is not accidental. It shows a connection which intensifies the contrast between the two things thus symbolized. What is the direct opposite of the false church which, however widely spread, has its roots in Rome? Surely the true Church, which has its roots in heaven, where Christ, its life, is. To contrast Jerusalem under the Messiah's reign with the false system of religion which has borne the name of Christ, would be altogether without point. The false thing must be contrasted with the true, the counterfeit with the genuine.
Both the false and the true Church are set out under two very different symbols. Looking Christward, the false church is the harlot, and the true Church is the wife. Looking manward, the false church is Babylon, the habitation of confusion, and the true Church is Jerusalem, "the habitation of peace." The harlot is decked out in a gaudy rube fitted to dazzle the world; the bride is arrayed in a white garment, pleasing to the eye of Christ. The great system framed according to man's will is a moral chaos; the great system moulded according to God's mind is the display of perfect symmetry and order. No doubt the symbolic description of the true Church is borrowed from Jerusalem, just as the symbolic description of the false church is borrowed from Babylon. But this no more proves the real Jerusalem to be meant by the one description than the real Babylon to be meant by the other. On the contrary, if we admit Babylon to be a figure, we must admit Jerusalem to be a figure also, each morally perfect, but not to be confounded with the reality.
Indeed, that this New Jerusalem is not a real city seems obvious, for it is described, not as the dwelling-place of the bride, but as the bride herself, whose marriage with the Lamb has already been celebrated in heaven. Its form too, as shown in the following verses, though exquisite as a symbol of the divine symmetry of the true Church, is impossible as the shape of a real city. Besides, the description of the millennial Jerusalem given by Ezekiel, while bearing some resemblance, is for the most part a striking contrast, to the glorious vision here beheld.
"And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem [or "the holy city, Jerusalem"], descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal." (vv. 10, 11.) When he saw the judgment of the harlot, he was carried "away in the spirit into the wilderness," the home of desolation and death. When he sees the glories of the bride, he is carried "away in the spirit to a great and high mountain." Mountains, in Scripture, are often used, both symbolically and literally, as the scenes of glorious visions. It was from a mountain height that Balaam was forced to exclaim, "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!" It was from a mountain height that Moses saw stretched beneath him the glorious land he was not permitted to enter. It was on a mountain height that the Lord Himself was transfigured before the eyes of His bewildered disciples. The figure here is taken from Ezekiel's vision, when he was carried to the land of Israel, and set "upon a very high mountain, by which was as the frame of a city on the south." (Ezek. 40:2.) But the resemblance only brings out more clearly the difference of the two visions. In Ezekiel the earthly character of the scene is marked. The place of observation is "the land of Israel," and the city is on the earth. John's place of observation is not connected with Israel, and the city is not on earth, but "descending out of heaven from God."
The symbol of a city being adopted, the name given is naturally that of the city in which God will have His delight, the city of peace, Jerusalem. But it is the heavenly Jerusalem in contrast with the earthly, and blessed and glorious as the earthly city will be, what are its blessings and glories compared with those now set forth in connection with this holy city descending from heaven? It has "the glory of God." Its light is "like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal." In an earlier chapter, He that sits upon the throne is "to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone." (Rev. 4:3.) The Church appears, therefore, in the glory of God Himself: All the brilliancy of the jasper, all the transparent purity of the crystal "the glory of God," meetness for "the inheritance of the saints in light," such is the Church after Christ has presented it "to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing;" but "holy and without blemish." (Eph. 5:27.)
"And [it] had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: on the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates." (vv. 12, 13.) In Ezekiel the city is also quadrangular, having twelve gates, three on each side, named after the twelve tribes of Israel. (Ezek. 48:30-35.) In both cases there is complete order and symmetry; in both cases a connection between the city and Israel. But in Ezekiel's city it is an earthly connection; in the city in the Revelation it is a heavenly connection, for at the gates are twelve angels. The gate is the place where the judges sit, and it was promised the apostles that "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.) We know not, indeed, how the saints will exercise judgment, and the vision here is manifestly symbolic. It agrees, however, with our Lord's promise in showing some kind of connection between the Church, or heavenly Jerusalem and the earthly government of God having Israel for its centre.
The "wall great and high" suggests separation and security. Everything defiling must be shut out from God's dwelling-place as out of the tabernacle of old, and perfect security beyond the reach of evil is the blessed portion of God's redeemed people. "And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." (v. 14.) The Church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets." Some may ask, Where is Paul, the special depository of Church truth? In a literal description it would of course be necessary to make the numbers accurately agree with the number of apostles. This description however is not literal, but symbolic; and in symbolic descriptions this literal accuracy is not needed. Twelve is often used as a typical number where it is not strictly adhered to in fact. Thus Scripture always speaks of the twelve tribes, when in reality there were thirteen; and our Lord promises that the twelve apostles should sit on twelve thrones judging Israel when one of them was a "son of perdition." In common usage convenient typical numbers are retained as descriptions, though the actual numbers may differ. Thus in many trades a dozen is used, not to mean twelve, but some arbitrary number deviating from twelve. "A hundred" was at first a division of our own land inhabited by a hundred families. The name is still kept, though perhaps not one division has now the hundred families from whence it was originally derived. So here the perfect symbolic number is used without reference to the individuals which make it up.
The wall is what fences a city off from the world without; the gate is what gives it communication with the world without. In that which marks the exclusive distinction of the Church the apostles appear; in that which marks its relationship with the world the twelve tribes appear; for the apostles are the foundation course of the Church, whereas Israel is always God's first thought in His government of the world. In that which symbolizes the going forth of the Church's authority towards the world Israel therefore naturally comes into prominence.
"And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof And the city lies four-square, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel." (vv. 15-17.) Once more we note the symbolism of Ezekiel, both as to the measuring reed in the hand of the man who shows him the city (Ezek. 40:3). and as to the quadrangular form of the city itself. But again the differences are thrown into bolder relief by this designed parallelism. In Ezekiel the measuring reed is of ordinary construction, suited to an earthly city; in the Revelation it is a golden reed, the type of divine righteousness, suited to the dwelling-place of God. In Ezekiel the city is large, becoming a splendid earthly metropolis; in the Revelation the city is vast beyond all possible earthly limits. In Ezekiel it is of the quadrangular form, often used in Scripture to indicate perfect earthly symmetry; in the Revelation there is another dimension, a height equal to the length and the breadth, showing a perfect cube, a still higher order of symmetry, heavenly in character, and manifestly unsuited to the earth.
It is surely no mere coincidence that the Holy of holies in the temple was of the same cubic form. "The oracle in the forepart was twenty cubits in length, and twenty cubits in breadth, and twenty cubits in the height thereof: and he overlaid it with pure gold." (1 Kings 6:29.) Now David gave to Solomon "the pattern of all that he had by the Spirit of the courts of the house of the Lord." (1 Chr. 28:12.) His plans therefore, like those of Moses, were formed after a heavenly model, and had a typical signification, so that the cubic form of the holiest place in the temple was an inspired type of the perfect symmetry of that "habitation of God" which formed the pattern of these earthly structures. Here too the number of administrative perfection twice appears in the twelve thousand furlongs which is the length of the side, and in the twelve times twelve, or one "hundred and forty and four cubits," of the height of the wall.
The measure is "the measure of a man, that is, of the angel." The standard therefore is after the measure of man, not in his earthly body, but in the body he will have after resurrection, when he is clothed upon with his house which is from heaven. In these "spiritual bodies" the "children of the resurrection" are said to be "equal unto the angels" (Luke 20:36), and it is to this new condition that the standard of measurement is conformed. The scene, though all symbolic, is throughout symbolic of the heavenly, and not of the earthly. The symbols are, of course, borrowed from the earth, but each has a heavenly stamp impressed upon it.
"And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass." (v. 18.) Jasper, as we have seen, is symbolic of "the glory of God." Gold typifies the righteousness of God, not in His government, but in His nature. Thus the Church shares the righteousness belonging to God, the saints being made morally "partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1:4.) The glory of God, also, the jasper wall, hems it in, at once defending it from all intrusion of evil, and maintaining it in that holy separateness which becomes His chosen habitation. A cube entirely inlaid with gold was the typical dwelling-place which He took in Israel. A cube of "pure gold, like unto clear glass," is the symbolic representation of the "holy temple," the "habitation of God through the Spirit," here set before us in the heavens.
"And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass." (vv. 19-21.) The names of the apostles are engraved on the foundations of the Church, but Christ Himself is the true foundation. As in the breastplate of the high priest the perfections of Christ, gleaming in the precious stones, were linked with the tribes whose names were cut upon them, so here the manifold perfections, and beauties, and glories of Christ, the true foundation, bear up the Church in its heavenly brightness. The foundation of all is jasper, "the glory of God;" for it is on Christ as "the Son of the living God," the One in whom "dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily," that the Church is built. Then comes the stone on which the elders of Israel had seen God Himself standing, when "there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness." (Exod. 24:10.) Then, completing the perfect number, follow the varied yet harmonious beauties centring in His matchless person, all sustaining that Church which He has built for His own delight and for God's habitation, that wondrous structure which only divine wisdom could have planned, only divine grace could have erected, only divine glory could uphold.
"Every several gate was of one pearl." The Church itself is the "one pearl of great price," which, on account of its exceeding beauty and preciousness in His eyes, Christ "has purchased with His own blood." And in every avenue of approach God will have the memorial of this beauty and preciousness preserved. At each portal the "one pearl" meets the eye. If "the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour unto it," they cannot approach its gates without beholding how precious this blood bought assembly is to the heart of Christ. Its streets, too, are "pure gold, as it were transparent glass." The sea of glass occupies the same place in the heavenly temple that the sea of water did in the earthly, the change showing that while on earth there was constant need for purification, in heaven there is fixed, unalterable purity. So in this scene. On earth, though sin cannot be imputed to the believer, there is constant liability to defilement in his walk, and the washing of water by the word, so beautifully typified in the washing of the disciples' feet, is constantly needed to restore communion. In this scene defilement of walk is just as impossible as imputation of sin. The path for the feet is the gold of divine righteousness, and the transparent glass shows that the need of cleansing is there unknown. All is spotlessly pure, transparently stainless, and the heart and the conscience are free to hold uninterrupted fellowship with God.
"And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it." (v. 22.) The city itself; or the Church, is a "holy temple," an "habitation of God through the Spirit." There could be no temple here; for a temple is a place where God, though deigning to dwell, is yet hidden. Outside, God is not seen, but only His dwelling place; inside, one is in the immediate presence of God Himself. Believers even now have access there, into the holiest of all, though the rent veil. There needs no temple, no veil, to separate them from God. So in this marvellous vision. The Church is, as it were, the perfectly -proportioned, innermost shrine in which God dwells, the holy of holies, of pure gold and heavenly symmetry, in which the throne and presence of God find their habitation.
And as there is no temple, nothing to hinder the immediate glory of the, divine presence shining in its midst so there is no need of any other authority or any other light. "And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof." (v. 23.) All created light, all created authority, however necessary here, will be superseded there by the perfect light shining in the glory of God and the person of Christ. Nor is this all. The Church will radiate the light it receives. "And the nations [the words "of them that are saved" should be omitted] shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour unto [not "into"] it." (v. 24.) Christians are placed here to "shine as lights in the world." (Phil. 2:15.) Alas what poor, dull lights, what faint, glimmering reflections of the glory of Him who came as "the light of the world," even the most devoted and holiest believers are. And what is the power of shining? Not the effort to do so, but gazing upon the glory of Christ. Moses' face shone, though he knew it not, because he had been in God's presence. Believers' faces shine when they, "beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory." (2 Cor. 3:18.) But the time is coming when believers will behold Christ face to face, and will bear His image perfectly; when He Himself shall "be admired in all them that believe," and there shall be no dimming of the glorious light in which they shine. "We shall be like Him; for we shall see him as He is." (1 John 3:2.) And as with believers individually, so the Church as a whole will be the perfect manifestation of God's glory, suited for His own chosen habitation.
"The kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour unto it," not into it. They will not enter the Church, but will render it the joint homage which is meet for "the bride, the Lamb's wife;" for when Christ reigns, and "all kings shall fall down before Him, all nations shall serve Him," then the Church will reign as His royal bride, the sharer of His universal dominion and universal homage. "And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day; for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations unto it." (vv. 25, 26.) There is perfect security. The night, in which evil can encroach unseen, has no place here. We are children of the day, children of the light. This is even our present standing, though our failure to walk as children of the light should fill us with grief and shame. But there all will be manifested, all will be perfect. Of the Church it will then be true, as of God Himself, that in it there is "no darkness at all; for it will shine with God's light.
The nations, like their kings, will do homage to "the Lamb's wife" as sharing the throne and glory of the Lamb Himself. This shows that the Church is here seen, not in the eternal, but in the millennial state. Its own condition will indeed be for the most part unchanged in the eternal state; but there will then be no nations on the earth, no kings to bring their glory and their honour to it. All this belongs to the earth in the divided condition which begun at Babel, and continues even during the millennium. But it has no place in the new earth, from which all trace of the failure and sin of the old creation is for ever blotted out.
As the figure of a city is consistently maintained, the heavenly saints are spoken of as its inhabitants. "And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defiles, neither whatsoever works abomination, or makes a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life." (v. 27.) God is "of purer eyes than to behold evil;" and if believers are saved, it is only because He has made them "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." No evil can exist in the presence of His light. The jasper wall, His own surpassing glory, is a perfect wall of separation between His dwelling-place and all that defiles, all that is abominable, all that is inconsistent with His own holy truth. None can be there but those "written in the Lamb's book of life;" those whom He has fitted by His own grace for His own presence.
But it is not only in authority, not only in glory, that "the bride, the Lamb's wife," is associated with the Lamb Himself. The city will also be as the dwelling-place of God, the fountain-head from which streams of blessing gush forth to the millennial earth. "And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." (Rev. 22:1-2.) The symbolism here is that of Ezekiel, but with differences which show that the earthly things are only types of the heavenly. In Ezekiel there is a real river of water issuing "from under the threshold of the house eastward" (Ezek. 47:1), and going forth to heal the waters of the Dead Sea. "And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine." (v. 12.)
The earthly things are moulded after the heavenly. Thus the earthly Jerusalem is fashioned like the heavenly, four-square; but in size and form suited to this world. The Holy of holies, God's earthly dwelling-place, is fashioned like the heavenly, of the same form and the same material, but with dimensions fitted to its earthly character. From the temple, God's dwelling-place in the earthly metropolis, the waters flow forth to spread life and fertility over the barren parts of the land, and to heal the bitter waters of the sea of death. From "the throne of God and of the Lamb" in the heavenly metropolis streams forth the river of the water of life; not to the land only, but to all mankind. Trees with fruit monthly renewed "for meat," and with leaves "for medicine," are on either side the stream renting out of the earthly city. But "the tree of life," of which the overcomer shall eat, is on either side the stream of the water of life flowing out of the heavenly city; and besides its fruit for the overcomer, its leaves are for the healing, not only of those in the land, but of the nations. Thus while the earthly Jerusalem is especially the centre of blessing to the land of Israel, the heavenly Jerusalem is the centre of blessing to the whole earth; for wherever we deal with the earthly things, Israel has the foremost place; but the circle of the Church's interests is wider, and in its blessings Jew and Gentile are alike partakers.
There is no "true of the knowledge of good and evil," no tree of responsibility now. That tree, whose taste brought death, was withered up by the cross, where all our broken responsibilities were met; and met so perfectly, that we now "have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Here therefore "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" disappears, and "the tree of life" alone flourishes. Those dwelling in "the paradise of God" eat of its fruits; but in the millennial earth, where evil, though checked, still exists, "the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." Here again it is clear that the time described is not the eternal state, when all evil is done away, but the millennial age, when healing is still needed.
"And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it and His servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and his name shall be in their foreheads" (vv. 3, 4.) Among the nations of the earth there is still the curse, not constantly abiding, but occasionally coming in as the punishment of sin; for "the sinner, being an hundred years old, shall be accursed." (Isa. 65:20.) Here, however, in this heavenly Jerusalem, "there shall be no more curse." How can there be for those who have been conformed to the image of God's Son? They are a people whom God has fashioned for Himself for His own dwelling-place, and therefore "the throne of God and of the Lamb" is among them. They are His servants, and now none other divides their allegiance with him. Unreservedly "they serve Him." Serve whom? it may be asked; God or the Lamb? Here, as often in John's writings, no distinction is made; both are spoken of as one. There is but one throne named, but One whom they serve, but One whom they see, but One whose name is written in their foreheads. Everywhere the same truth meets us — "I and my Father are one." They are His chosen companions, seeing as they are seen, for they behold His face; and they are specially claimed as His own, for "His name shall be in their foreheads." They shall then bear perfectly the moral imprint which, alas! it is often so difficult to discern in his saints now. "Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see him as He is." (1 John 3:2.)
"And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God gives them light; and they shall reign for ever and ever." (v. 5.) This is, as it were, the summary of the blessings enjoyed by the heavenly saints, the Church, in the millennial state. And what a summary! All darkness gone for ever; God Himself, not now through instruments, but in His own person, their blessed source of light, shining upon them in all His glory, and they able to rejoice in the glory; the saints reigning with Christ to the ages of ages during the whole millennial cycle.
Such is the Church, the bride, the Lamb's wife, the heavenly Jerusalem, during the thousand years' reign. The figures used may vary. The affections of Christ may be brought into prominence by presenting it as the bride; its relationship with the earth may be symbolized by picturing it as a city; its wonderful place in the counsels of God may be shown forth by delineating it as His dwelling-place. But whatever the figure used, the prominent thought is the surpassing glory and blessedness of that assembly which God is now calling out to be formed into one body, and to be for ever associated in peculiar closeness with the Son of His love. What a contrast the moral glories here portrayed with the sad, ruined, failing condition of even the true Church as we now see it in the world! God's thoughts and love are not deflected from their purpose by our failure; but should not this very fact cover us with shame that our failure has been so great?
Closing Warnings and Exhortations.
The Revelation, strictly speaking, ends with the vision of the New Jerusalem, for the following verses are not so much a part of the Revelation itself as words, spoken by the angel or by the Lord, pressing the truth and value of what is revealed upon our hearts. "And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets [or of the spirits of the prophets] sent His angel to show unto His servants the things which must shortly be done. Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keeps the sayings of the prophecy of this book" (vv. 6, 7.) No book so marvellously unfolds the heavenly glories awaiting the saints; no book so emphatically repeats the assurance that these things are "faithful and true." The Old Testament name of Lord God, His title of God of the spirits of the prophets, the angel messenger sent, and the relationship of servants ascribed to the saints — all fit in with what we have seen to be the prophetic character of the book. But there is a difference between these prophecies and those of the Old Testament, which they so strongly resemble. In the Old Testament the events foretold are spoken of as distant; here they are spoken of as "things which must shortly be done." The reason is, that the Church period is always counted outside the course of time. It is an interval, a parenthesis, which grace may lengthen, but which at any moment may be brought to a close. Believers are, therefore, to be constantly expecting the coming of the Lord. His word to them here is, Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keeps the sayings of the prophecy of this book."
What is meant by keeping these sayings? During the Church time the greater part of the judgments predicted in this book are yet future, and how then can the sayings be kept? To treasure up the sayings of God is, however, always profitable. It is not necessary even that they should in every case be intelligently understood, much less that they should immediately affect ourselves. The historical development of the events foretold may not be divinely apprehended; but the great principles of God's righteous judgments, culminating in the glory of Christ, may be clearly discerned through the thickest haze of misinterpretation in which the book can be wrapped.
Has the Church, then, been faithful? Alas! something more than misunderstanding has helped to obscure the truth. The great feature of the book is the failure of Christendom. It stands out in the letters to the seven churches, in the corrupt, apostate Babylon, and in the great Gentile power of the last days which, though embracing none but Christian lands, falls into the most hideous idolatry and rebellion against God. Now this utter failure of the Church as a professing system, though the great feature of the book, is just the feature which Christians have refused to see. The Spirit had warned the Gentiles that they stood by faith, and that if God had not spared the natural branches, the Jews, they insist take heed lest He also spare not them Instead of taking heed, they became high-minded, and did not fear. If God's word be true, therefore, they must be cut off: This the Revelation points out; but the Church, fancying itself secure, has never dreamed that judgment is awaiting it, and, shutting its eyes to the solemn truth, has accepted any interpretation but that which thus appealed to its conscience. Had it bowed to the truth concerning the judgment about to come upon the house of God, this apostacy could never have taken place. But it has failed to keep "the sayings of the prophecy of this book," and high-mindedness, worldly ambition, and departure from its true character as waiting for Christ, have been the sad results.
"And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things. Then says he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book; worship God." (vv. 8, 9.) Now, as before, when John fell down to worship the angel, it is the sight of the glories of the Church that overwhelms him. Then he had beheld "the Lamb's wife" "arrayed in fine linen, clean and white;" now he has been gazing on the dazzling vision of the New Jerusalem. On each occasion the angel refuses worship, associating himself with John, and his brethren the prophets, and those "which keep the sayings of this book."
"And he says unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still." (vv. 10, 11.) Daniel was told to "shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end." (Dan. 12:4.) This is quite different from the directions here given, where the prophecy is not to be sealed, "for the time is at hand." Neither prophecy has, however, yet received its fulfilment. Why, then, should the first be spoken of as far distant, and the second as at hand? Why should the first be sealed up as papers only wanted at some future time, and the other left unsealed as papers wanted for immediate use? To say that Daniel's prophecy was six hundred years earlier than the other will not suffice; for if two thousand four hundred years is a distant date, so is eighteen hundred years; and if events eighteen hundred years off are said to be at hand, why may not events two thousand four hundred years off be said to be "at hand" also? The explanation lies in the character of the present epoch, during which no dates are given, and no time is reckoned. None is to put off, even in thought, the Lord's return. This being a momentary expectation, the whole Church period is passed over, and the only time counted is the short interval after the Church is taken. Then God's dealings with the world in government are resumed, and the preparation for the restoration of Israel and the reign of Christ is again carried on.
When that time comes the moral condition of men will be fixed. The unjust will remain unjust, and the filthy will remain filthy, the righteous will remain righteous, and the holy will remain holy. Clearly this cannot apply to the present day of grace. It is a warning that "the time is at hand;" for the day of grace is passing, and no calculation of its continuance can be made. These judgments are therefore to be regarded as near, and when once come, the call to repentance will sound no more, the blessed will be eternally blessed, the wicked eternally wicked.
Hence the speedy retain of the Lord is again pressed, and now by the Lord Himself; for up to this point it has been an angel speaking, though sometimes in Christ's name, but henceforth it is Christ speaking in his own person. "[And] behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." (vv. 12, 13.) In the Revelation the two parts of the Lord's second advent, His coming for his saints, and His coming to judge the world, are often spoken of in the same language. Morally they resemble each other, being both acts of judgment towards the world, and both bringing blessing to the believer, The believer is taken to glory by the first act, manifested in glory by the second. The world is left over for judgment by the first act, brought under the execution of judgment by the second.
The important point is, then, not the order of events, but the great fact that Christ is coming, and that when He does come, He "will render to every man according to his deeds." (Rom. 2:6.) This is the invariable principle of God's righteous dealings, and is in no respect weakened by grace. Grace, it is true, lays our sins on another as our substitute, and credits us with the good deeds wrought in us by God's own power; but this confirms the principle instead of contradicting it. If an upright man winds up his affairs, he collects what is due to him, and pays what he owes. Nor is the justice of this course affected by the fact that certain debts have been remitted, or certain obligations incurred, out of kindness. So God's righteous judgment according to works is in no way impaired by the fact that the believer's sins have been put away, and the believer's righteousnesses have been wrought, by his own grace.
These righteous principles, being as eternal and immutable as God Himself, are followed by the declaration of Christ's own character as the eternal One, "the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last."
The consistency of righteousness and grace is shown in the next verse: "Blessed are they that wash their robes [not as our version has it, "do His commandments"], that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loves and makes a lie." (vv. 14, 15.) Thus while righteousness has been declared the principle of Christ's judgment, grace is the foundation on which the blessing of the redeemed is based. The "right to the tree of life," which is in the midst of the paradise of God, is not "keeping the commandments," or any goodness on man's part, but the righteousness of "the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin," because he has washed his robes, "and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." This, too, is his title to "enter in through the gates into the city," or to become a member of the Church of God. For unless thus washed, he is in himself defiled, and must remain without, classed among the dogs, or unclean, the sorcerers, the whoremongers, the idolaters, the murderers, the lovers and practisers of falsehood, who have no place in the holy city.
Having thus declared the principles of righteousness on which He will act at His second coming, the Lord closes the book with a few weighty and solemn words. "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star." (v. 16.) There is something beautiful in the way in which the Lord, when thus closing his Revelation, speaks to the beloved disciple, not in His official character, but for a moment in that personal name by which he had known and loved Him here on earth. It is as though He had said, True I am the eternal One, the supreme judge; but for all that I am still that same Jesus with whom you walked in Galilee, that same Jesus on whose breast you leaned at supper. He is also "the faithful and true witness," and as such He has, through His angel, testified the coming ruin and failure in the churches, But still He is the hope alike of the earthly and of the heavenly saints. To the earthly saints, whose portion consists in the fulfilment of the promises made to David, He is "the root" of David, or the One to whom all the promises owe their origin, and also the offspring of David, the royal seed to whom they all point To the heavenly saints, the Church, He is the perennial hope, the harbinger of the coming day, "the bright and morning star."
And this draws forth the response, prompted by the Spirit, from the heart of the bride; "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that hears say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely." (v. 17.) The true attitude of the Church, the bride of Christ, is always to be waiting for his coming. He is her hope. The declaration that He is "the bright and morning star" naturally awakens the longing of the bride, and the Spirit, speaking through her, joins in the invitation to "come." And still the word of grace is going forth, telling of Jesus as a Saviour, so that he who hears may receive the word and he able to join in the cry; "Let him that hears say, Come." Nor will He who bid the weary come to Him for rest, and the thirsty for water, leave it only to others to proclaim the word. Once more His own voice goes forth in tender solicitation — "Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." How cheering these words of grace, these earnest loving appeals, at the close of this book of judgments. They seem to say, "The day of retribution is fast approaching, but the day of grace still lingers; eternal life is my free gift. Before it is too late, come, drink of this fountain which will satisfy for evermore."
The one-sidedness of man always leads him to set grace and judgment in antagonism, whereas the many-sidedness of God's word gives to each its proper place. After the tender words of invitation just uttered, it is solemnly instructive to see the rampart with which God shelters this book of sevenfold judgments from any intrusion of man's reasoning and unbelief. "For I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book [or from the tree] of life, and out of the holy city [and from the things], which are written in this book." (vv. 18, 19.)
What is meant by adding to and taking from this book? It does not mean only the open infidelity which refuses it as God's word. No doubt it would include this, but it includes much more. The professing Church has practically set aside this book, not through mere misunderstanding, which is not here referred to, but because its character and hopes took a worldly instead of a heavenly type. It refused to believe itself under judgment, and thus took from this portion of God's word. It assumed its own universal dominion and triumph over evil, and its own continuance to the end of time, and thus added to this portion of God's word. No doubt many of God's children, who reverence His word, have been misled by this false traditional belief, and have in all simplicity and honesty adopted a system of interpretation founded upon it. We need not say that the judgments here denounced against those who tamper with God's word have no application to such. But to Christendom as a whole the guilt is chargeable, and on Christendom as a whole the penalty will fall. Babylon, which, instead of repenting and clothing herself in sackcloth, like Nineveh of old, has "said in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow," will have added unto her "the plagues that are written in this book."
The denunciation only extends to those who shall add to or take from the words of this particular book; but it must not be inferred that God regards a similar treatment of other portions of His word with greater indifference. The fact that this book would be so wrested from its true meaning as to blind men's eyes to the failure and judgment of Christendom, has indeed caused God to invest it with a s special sanctity, not only pronouncing a distinct blessing on those who read it, but a distinct curse on those who slight it. But the principle is true of Scripture generally. To add to God's word, or to take from it, must bring judgment. Those who set their minds and wills in opposition to God's can have no part in the tree of life or in the holy city.
And now come the Lord's closing words, words at once of warning and of hope: "He which testifies these things says, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus." (v. 20.) They are words of warning, for is it not time that Christendom should wake from its sleep, and instead of indulging in the dream of universal dominion, own the ruin and failure which its apathy has brought in? They are words of hope, for what can be more cheering to the true saint of' God, who sees that all has failed on man's side, than the thought that the Lord is coming to take His waiting people to Himself and afterwards to establish His throne in righteousness on the earth? Hence, when His voice is heard, "Surely I come quickly," the heart response of His people goes forth, "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus." So closes this book, the writer only adding the parting salutation, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all [or with all saints]. Amen" (v. 21.)
It perhaps assist the memory, and thus give a clearer grasp of the whole book, if we seek once more to map out on a small scale the wide tracts of time and space over which the Spirit leads us in this revelation of the ways of God.
As far as the earth is concerned the book is almost exclusively a book of judgments. The earthly glories of the kingdom are scarcely seen. On the other hand, the heavenly glories of the kingdom, and especially of the Church, which were entirely hidden from the Old Testament prophets, are unrolled in dazzling splendour before our eyes.
God reveals Himself as Creator and Judge, as Jehovah, who entered into covenant with Israel, and as the Almighty, the author of the promises to Abraham and the fathers. Christ bears throughout the character of the Son of man to whom judgment is committed. The Holy Ghost is seen in the manifold activity of His ways as connected with the government of God, not in His present unity as baptizing all believers into one body. In the first part Christ appears clothed in judicial garments, and walking amidst the seven golden candlesticks, which represent the seven churches. He makes a revelation concerning "the things which are," the church period, and "the things which shall be after these," or the things that will happen after the church period. (Rev. 1.)
The Things Which Are.
The Church as a responsible thing here on earth is first brought under review, and its melancholy decline set forth. As a professing body it has utterly failed, though always containing true believers, the overcomers to whom special rewards are promised. in Ephesus the first symptoms of that fatal malady which at length undermines the whole system are discerned, not by any outward marks visible to the eye of man, but by those subtle manifestations which the searcher of hearts too surely detects. First love is withering, and though in Smyrna we see a temporary revival under persecution, in Pergamos we find the affections transferred to the world, and evil hateful to Christ lightly tolerated. In Thyatira the gangrene has spread, and evil is not only endured, but delighted in. Thorough corruption has eaten into the very vitals of the Church, and henceforth the overcomers are only a feeble remnant holding the truth in the face of opposition, and looking for the Lord's return as their hope. In Sardis there is a partial recovery as to outward purity of doctrine and practice, but no real restoration of vital power; the mass dead, the rest ready in die. Philadelphia shows much weakness, but a faithfulness and dependence which call forth the Lord's approval. Laodicea displays activity and fancied power, but with no sense of or true humility before God; hence the lukewarmness which makes it nauseous to Christ, and leads to its final rejection. (Rev. 2, 3.)
Such is the sad prophetic outline of the Church on earth. The coming of the Lord for His saints forms no part of the scheme of this book; but its true place is after the third chapter. It is the event for which the overcomers were bidden to look, and though naturally omitted in a record of judgments, it must necessarily occur before the professing Church is spued out of Christ's mouth.
From this point therefore we enter on entirely new scenes. The true Church has disappeared from the earth. God, as Creator, sits on the throne of judgment, encircled with a rainbow, the token of His covenant with the earth, and surrounded by the twenty-four throned elders who represent the redeemed, including the true Church, in glorified bodies in heaven. Christ, together with the Father and the Spirit, is here adored as God and Creator. (Rev. 4.) But God next appears occupied with the execution of His counsels preparatory to the establishment of Christ's earthly kingdom. Christ is no longer seen walking in judicial robes among the candlesticks, but as the executor of God's purposes of wrath upon the earth. He comes forth us the man who is found worthy to unfold and carry out God's judgments contained in the seven-sealed book. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Root of David, the One who is to accomplish all that God promised to Israel and its royal house. He takes His dominion, however, not in virtue of His divine power or dignity, but as the slain Lamb, the obedient One, to whom, because He had stooped to death, every knee must bow. The adoration already commences, and by anticipation is even perfected, in the worship of the elders, of the angels, and finally of all created things. (Rev. 5.)
With the opening of the sealed book the stream of preliminary judgments begins to flow, and continues to the close of the eleventh chapter. It is divided into two portions, the milder judgments of the seals, and the heavier ones of the trumpets. These correspond with the two divisions in the prophecy of our Lord, who speaks first of "the beginning of sorrows," and afterwards of the great tribulation immediately preceding His own glorious advent. The first six seals disclose wars, famines, pestilences, and persecutions, ending in a mighty social convulsion which excites general terror and consternation. The martyred saints cry for vengeance in a way unsuited to this dispensation, but in perfect accordance with the voice of the waiting saints, who lock for deliverance from Christ's coming and reign, as prophetically recorded in the Psalms, (Rev. 6.) After these judgments there is a pause, during which a remnant of one hundred and forty-four thousand, consisting of twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, is sealed for preservation; while the eye is also permitted to glance forward and behold a countless throng of Gentiles who are brought out victoriously from the great tribulation. (Rev. 7.)
Then the seventh seal is opened, and the judgments of this terrible hour, each ushered in by the solemn sound of a trumpet, fall in awful succession upon the earth. The first four indicate dreadful suffering (Rev. 8.); but the last three have a specially fearful character, and are designated "woe" trumpets. (Rev. 9.) During the second of these woes we see God's purposes clearly brought out. Christ, as a mighty angel, takes possession of the earth, and a proclamation is made that on the sounding of the last trumpet the mystery of God will be finished. John receives an open book, and is told that he must prophesy again concerning peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings, thus unfolding God's purposes about the government of the world. (Rev. 10) The prophecy therefore proceeds to show us God in connection with Jerusalem, where, though He has a people and witnesses, the Gentiles still reign and the mass of the Jews are still in unbelief. The beast, the last head of the Roman Empire, now revived with Satanic energy, exercises authority in the city, and causes the witnesses of the coming Messianic kingdom, notwithstanding their miraculous powers, to be put to death. The earth rejoices at their destruction, but speedily stands aghast as it beholds their dead bodies supernaturally quickened and taken up to God, whose wrath further manifests itself in a destructive earthquake. The time of the witnesses' prophecy and the beast's ascendancy in Jerusalem, as recorded in this chapter, is the three and a half years of Gentile rule directly preceding Christ's glorious advent. On the sounding of the seventh trumpet joy breaks forth in heaven over the establishment of Christ's kingdom, the reward of His saints, and the judgment of His adversaries. Details are not given, but such is the grand event over which the heavens rejoice. (Rev. 11.)
Here the continuous narrative breaks off. But God has other purposes to reveal. Having already shown that He is now occupied with Israel and Jerusalem, we have His thoughts concerning these central points of His earthly government further unfolded. The ark of the covenant again appears in the temple in heaven. (Rev. 11:19.) Satan's hostility to Israel, symbolized under the figure of the dragon and the woman, is brought to light. He vainly attempts to destroy Christ, the man child, who is caught up by God into heaven. The Church interval is then entirely passed over, and the events of the last days of Israel's sorrow, before her final deliverance, are revealed. Michael the great prince who stands up for Israel, drives Satan, their enemy and accuser, out of heaven, who, coming to the earth fall of rage, because he knows that his time is short, persecutes the woman and her seed, or the faithful Jews who are looking for the Lord's advent. But his designs are frustrated, God providing a refuge in which the saints are sheltered from his malice. (Rev. 12.)
The instruments whom Satan uses in this persecution are then shown. The first is the beast, or the head of the Roman Empire, whose revival is filling the world with astonishment. The prince by whom it is resuscitated is the last head of the Gentile monarchy, and is specially endowed by Satan as the god of this world with dominion and authority, which he uses to further Satan's object in persecuting the saints now looking for the Messiah's kingdom. Worship of God is set aside, and the beast not only renders religious honours to Satan, but claims them for himself. He has in Jerusalem a wicked co-adjutor, who, gifted by Satan with miraculous powers, presents himself to the Jews as their Messiah, and persuades them to worship the beast and his image, inflicting death on those who refuse. Such is the state of things in Jerusalem, just before Christ returns to set up His reign of righteousness over the earth. The period during which this unparalleled tribulation endures — the period of Satan's persecution, the beast's rule, and the anti-christ's deceptions — is three and a half years, or the last half week of Daniel's prophecy. (Rev. 13.)
Having now shown us the evil agencies at work, we are next called aside to see God's purposes in the midst of all this. Permitted to look to the end, we behold the persecuted remnant who had fled into the wilderness brought into power and blessing in the millennial earth. We then hear the proclamation of the everlasting gospel, or God's claim as Creator, set forth, followed by the denunciation of judgment against Babylon, the corrupt profession of Christianity still remaining in the world, and against those who worship the beast and his image; while at the same time an announcement is made of the blessed lot of those who henceforth die in the Lord. Two classes of judgment are also foretold as awaiting the Gentiles, the discriminating judgment indicated by the harvest, and the unsparing outpouring of wrath symbolized by the treading of the wine press. Such are God's thoughts and designs concerning this world, which seems to be abandoned to Satan and his tools. (Rev. 14.)
The prophet is then allowed a brief glimpse at the blessedness of those who have died in the Lord during this dreadful season, after which he is called to witness the preparations for pouring out the seven vials in which the wrath of God is filled up. (Rev. 15.) These follow, and are generally of the same character as the judgments under the trumpets, though seemingly of shorter duration and greater intensity. Towards the close they pave the way for the final catastrophe, the armies of the world being gathered to make war with the Lamb, and judgment being at length executed on Babylon, the corrupt system which has usurped and dishonoured the name of Christ. (Rev. 16.)
The true character of this system in God's sight, its abominations, and its connection with the Roman Empire, are next portrayed. But the head of this empire and his confederates at length turn against it, and inflict upon it a terrible destruction. Its overthrow is recorded first under the figure of the harlot, the abandoned woman who claimed to be the bride of Christ, but was really the paramour of the world (Rev. 17) and next as a vast worldly and political system, symbolized by the expressive figure of a great city. (Rev. 18.)
Christ's Coming and Reign.
The pretended wife being thus signally judged amidst the rejoicings of heaven, the true wife, the real Church, is beheld in heaven, clothed in white raiment, which typifies the righteousnesses of saints; and the marriage of the Lamb takes place. Henceforth the elders are no more seen, some of the united company which they represented forming a part of the Church, and being thus included in the bride, and others being among the friends of the Bridegroom. And now all the preparations are completed, and the time for Christ to take the kingdom, together with His heavenly bride, has at length come. He issues from heaven, girded with majesty and power, and accompanied by His saints. The time to judge the great destroyers of the earth has arrived, and the beast and the false prophet are captured, and cast alive into the lake of fire, while their armies are destroyed by the sword of Him that sits upon the horse. (Rev. 19.) Satan too is bound, and thrust into the bottomless pit, where he is confined a thousand years. (Rev. 20:1-3.)
Judgment having now been executed, the reign of Christ and of His saints commences. These saints comprise three classes those who were raised and taken to heaven before these judgments begun, whom we have already seen under the figure of the four and twenty elders, and two companies of martyrs, who suffered death during the persecutions of this time. All have their part in the first resurrection, the resurrection of life; all are made priests of God and of Christ; all reign with Him during the thousand years of His dominion over the earth. At the close of this period Satan, being loosed for a short time, stirs up a vast insurrection against Christ's rule, which is crushed by flames coming down from heaven and destroying the rebels, while Satan himself is finally cast into the lake of fire. Then comes the end of the world, accompanied by the resurrection of those who are still in their graves. This is the resurrection of judgment, in which the risen ones are summoned before the great white throne, and there tried according to their works. The vast bulk, or perhaps all, not being found written in the book of life, are thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death. (Rev. 20.)
Having thus brought us down to the end of this world's history, we are allowed one glimpse into that eternal state in which God is all in all. There we see the Church as the bride of Christ, and also as the tabernacle of God. There we see God dwelling with the redeemed in the new heaven and the new earth, where there is no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, for the former things have passed away. At the same time we see the lost enduring the deathless anguish of the second death. (Rev. 21:1-8.)
The Spirit then carries back our gaze to the millennial state, where the glories of the bride are figured under the radiant vision of the New Jerusalem, gleaming with the glory of God, fitted in its symmetry and holiness for His own dwelling-place, the seat of His throne, and the reservoir from whence His blessings stream forth to the redeemed earth. (Rev. 21:9 to 22:5.) After this magnificent vision, a few words of tender encouragement, and also of solemn warning, close this marvellous book. (Rev. 22:6-21.)
We have thus traced the record of God's purposes and judgments from beginning to end of this "Revelation of Jesus Christ." We have seen the highest glories which God's grace can bestow, and the deepest abyss into which man's guilt can plunge. We have seen man under grace, rejecting and despising it; man in responsibility to God, turning in rebellion and blasphemy against Him. We have seen Satan working behind the human instruments whom he employs, and bringing upon this wretched world woes and judgments which the heart sinks to contemplate. Looked at from man's side, all is failure, misery, ruin. But God is above all, and Christ, the man of God's right hand, is victor over all. The professing church may fail on earth, but the true Church shines forth in His own glory in heaven. Man's earthly government may end in blasphemy and rebellion, but He will take the reins into His own hands, and carry out God's purposes of righteous government and blessing for the world. Satan may rage for a while, but in the end he is cast into everlasting torment. Death may reign ever a sinful world, but death itself is at last destroyed, and sin is banished for ever from the presence of God. May the Lord grant, as we close the record of His own ways, a deeper sense of the utter ruin and lost condition of man, and a fuller confidence in the boundless grace and exhaustless resources hidden in Christ.