Section 2 of: The Revelation of Jesus Christ
by T. B. Baines.
God and the Lamb
Revelation 4, 5.
We have now looked at "the things which are." The fourth chapter begins thus "After this [or rather, "after these things;" that is, "the things which are"] I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter [or "the things which must be after these"]." (v. 1.) The new things we now come to divide themselves into two portions — the judgments preparatory to Christ's coming and kingdom, and the coming and kingdom themselves. It is the first portion with which we are now concerned.
What then are these events? If "the things which are" only apply to the seven churches in Asia, "the things which must be after these" may begin from any time later than this book; and there is doubtless a certain correspondence between the outlines here given and some great events in subsequent history. But many prophecies have, first a general and partial fulfilment and afterwards a far more exact and complete one; and if "the things which are" be understood in their wider scope, as embracing the whole cycle of Church history, "the things which must be after these" will, of course, begin only when Church history ends.
Admitting a general truth in the first mode of interpretation, it seems probable, for reasons already given, that "the things which are," in their principal application, take in the entire duration of the Church on earth, and therefore that the prophecy of "the things which must be after these" has its more complete and precise fulfilment after the Church has ceased to exist down here. Nothing answering to the Church is seen on earth during the judgments which follow, a fact quite inexplicable if these judgments occurred while the Church was still in the world. The names and titles in which God reveals Himself are also very different from those used in speaking of His relationship with the Church. So, too, Christ is here seen in quite another character from that in which He presented Himself to the seven churches in Asia; and, indeed, the whole scheme of the book from this point agrees far more with God's ways concerning the establishment of the Messianic kingdom than with His mode of acting during the present dispensation. The proofs of this will appear as we advance.
It may perhaps help to simplify this subject to those unacquainted with God's ways if we briefly sketch the order of coming events as taught in other portions of Scripture. Two great events are spoken of as before the Church and the world. These are the coming of the Lord for His saints, and the coming of the Lord with His saints. It is most important that the distinction, both of time and character, between these events should be carefully borne in mind.
The coming of the Lord for his saints is the present hope of the Church. When this happens, as it may at any time, all living and dead believers, from the foundation of the world, will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. The Church, as the body of Christ, consisting only of true believers, will then cease to exist on earth.
After the coming of the Lord for his saints, and before the coming with His saints, God will not be occupied, as now, in gathering out a people to be united with Christ in heaven, but in preparing the way for the establishment of Christ's earthly kingdom, and in making ready a people who shall receive Him as their earthly sovereign. These objects are both accomplished by means of sore judgments inflicted on the earth, judgments by which His enemies are punished and His people purified. "The hour of temptation," already spoken of, is the period during which these judgments are poured forth.
The coming of the Lord with His saints will take place at the end of this "hour of temptation," after the preliminary judgments have been brought to a close. It is the event described as "the coming of the Son of man," the coming of the day of the Lord, and the appearing of Christ. At this coming Christ will execute judgment on His enemies, deliver his chosen earthly people, and establish His dominion in righteousness over the world.
The interval between the coming of the Lord for His saints, and the coming of the Lord with His saints, or, in other words, between the taking away of the Church and the establishment of the kingdom, is, as already stated, a period of heavy judgments. During this time God and Christ are not acting in the same manner, or revealing themselves in the same character, as during the present dispensation. We shall see how, in the prophecies now to come before us, God's ways and titles harmonize with the character of this interval, and how completely they differ from the character of the present or Church dispensation.
The preliminary judgments detailed in this part of the book form several distinct groups, but before these are related the scene in heaven is opened to our gaze. There we are permitted to see things from God's point of view, to see the character in which He is acting, the purposes which He is bringing to accomplishment, and the secret springs which regulate the judgments hanging over the world. In these two chapters God is set forth, first in his rights and titles as Creator, dealing with the world which He has made; and next, in His sovereign prerogatives as Judge, committing all judgment to "the Man of His right hand, the Son of man whom He has made strong for Himself."
God as Creator.
The first verse, already quoted, shows John summoned up through an opened door into heaven. The whole scene is changed. In spirit he is no longer in Patmos, hearing Christ's judicial estimate of the Church down here, but in heaven, beholding the development of events preparatory to His taking his earthly kingdom. This is the place from which the believer will look on during that "hour of temptation which will come upon all the world." John therefore is translated to the sphere of observation from which the Church will behold the judgments of that dreadful time. This surely suggests that the events which He describes are these judgments.
Why then, it may be asked, is nothing said about the rapture of the Church? Because in the Revelation the Church on earth is regarded, not in its privileges and hopes, but in its responsibilities and failure. Moreover prophecy is not a continuous narrative, but a succession of scenes often widely separated in time and circumstances. So it is here. The book reveals Christ acting as judge. His judicial estimate of Christendom, or the professing Church, comes first; then follow His judgments poured forth upon the earth after the true Church, His body, has been removed. There is no room for the "blessed hope" in this scheme. We see that the Church, the whole body of real believers, is gone, but must learn from other Scriptures how it has been taken away.
"And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And He that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone; and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald." (vv. 2, 3.) This is God seated on the throne. The jasper is called "a stone most precious" (Rev. 21:11), and the idea suggested by both gems is that of dazzling glory. It is a session of judgment; for "out of the throne proceeded lightnings, and thunderings, and voices." (v. 5.) Still it is encircled with a rainbow, the token of God's "everlasting covenant" with creation. (Gen. 9:16.) When Ezekiel beheld God about to give up Jerusalem to desolation, he saw "the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain." (Ezek. 1:28.) So here, again, God shows that in judgment He remembers the covenant He has made with the earth. The emerald may be emblematic of the preciousness of the covenant in His sight, or its greenness may indicate the refreshing rest brought to the eye when wearied with the vision of the impending judgments.
Surely it brings cheer to the heart while traversing the dark gulf of gloom through which this book carries us, to look up and see that it is all spanned by the rainbow arch of God's unfailing covenant with the world. God will be glorified and Christ receive His rights even in this scene, and in this the believer's heart can rejoice. But the covenant indicated by the rainbow is a covenant with the world, not with the Church, and its appearance now in connection with the throne indicates that God is not acting in relationship with the Church, but with the world, where Israel is always the central object.
"And round about the throne were four and twenty seats [or thrones]: and upon the thrones I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold." (v. 4.) Who are these elders? They are not angels; for in the next chapter the angels stand "round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders," singing quite a different hymn of praise from that in which the elders had previously joined. (Rev. 5:11.) Their number is symbolic, and clearly refers to the four and twenty courses of priests instituted by David. Their "white raiment" is the clothing promised to the overcomer, and afterwards used as emblematic of the "righteousness of saints." (Rev. 19; 8.) So, too, the thrones on which they are seated and the golden crowns they wear are both promised to believers; and their rank, as assessors with God in this scene of judgment, is suited to the saints who "shall judge the world." (1 Cor. 6:2.) All this suggests that we have, under the figure of these elders, the class which raised the song before recorded, "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto His God and Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." (Rev. 1:5-6.)
Not only, then, have we no mention of the Church on earth, not only have we John looking down from the place whence believers will witness the judgments which follow the taking of the Church, but we have a company in heaven answering in every respect to the position which raised believers will occupy. Moreover the work in which God is here engaged — judgment qualified by the recollection of His covenant with the earth, corresponds, not with His present ways of grace, but with what is foretold of His acts when the day of grace is ended, and He resumes His dealings with the world preparatory to the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. All this shows that the scene here is one which follows the coming of Christ for his saints, and that the elders in heaven represent believers who are then taken up and changed into His own likeness.
The throne and its surroundings are then described: "And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal." Here the lightnings and thunderings show the throne to be a throne of judgment. The Spirit is seen in His manifold activity in judgment, symbolised by the "seven lamps of fire," in connection with the throne. The "sea of glass like unto crystal" typifies fixed purity, in contrast with the sea of water in the court of the temple. On earth there was need of purifying; in heaven there is not, so that the sea is no longer of water, but of crystal — that "terrible crystal," spotless purity of holiness, on which Ezekiel saw the throne of God standing. (Ezek. 1:22, 26.)
But besides the lamps of fire and the sea of glass, "in the midst at the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts [or living creatures] full of eyes before and behind. And the first living creature was like a lion, and the second living creature like a calf and the third living creature had a face as a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures had each of them six wings; and they were full of eyes about and within; and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." (vv. 6-8.) These living creatures resemble in part the seraphim whom Isaiah saw above the throne of the Lord, having six wings, and crying, "Holy, holy, holy" (Isa. 6:1-3); and in part the living creatures of Ezekiel's vision, where the same emblems, of the lion the ox, the man, and the eagle, also appear, and where the wheels which move with them, are "full of eyes round about." (Ezek. 1). They are "in the midst of the throne," as well as around it, seeming to show that they are rather symbols of God's ways in providence and judgment than separate beings. They are full of eyes, before and behind around and within, indicating perfect knowledge and intelligence. The man, the ox, the lion, and the eagle show the four chief types of the living creation in which God has displayed His power, and may perhaps also signify the intelligence, the utility, the power, and the swiftness of His judgments. In their wings we see the rapidity with which his purposes are carried out, while they are the unwearied proclaimers of that holiness which marks all His ways.
On both the occasions when these living creatures were formerly seen, God was acting in judgment. On both occasions the place of His appearance was the temple at Jerusalem. And on both occasions the declaration of His purposes concerning Israel, as the centre of His schemes of earthly government, was the object with which He thus revealed Himself The glory in which He is here beheld is therefore a glory connected with Israel. Isaiah had been told that the desolation of Jerusalem was impending, and Ezekiel saw the glory quit the temple and city before the Gentile domination began. Afterwards, in the prophecy of the Messiah's reign, and the restoration of Jerusalem, the same glory, "even according to the vision that I saw when I came to destroy the city" (Ezek. 43:3), returns and takes its abode in the rebuilt temple. All this shows that we have here the revelation of God's ways, not about the Church, or the present dispensation, but about Israel and the coming age, when God resumes the execution of His purposes concerning the government of the world.
The same thing is signified in the use of the title, "Lord God Almighty." These are names recalling God's covenants with Abraham and Israel, and relating to His government of the world. They are used, as consistent with the general character of the book, in the first chapter. They are then entirely dropped during the addresses to the seven churches. After the close of these addresses they are resumed, and henceforth kept up to the close, showing that we have entered upon an epoch quite different from that of the Church.
The proclamation of God's holiness draws forth the worship of the elders. "And when those living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to Him that sat on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that lives for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created" [or "were and have been created"]. (vv. 9-11.) This is not worship addressed to the Father, but to the God of creation and providence. In this chapter Jesus is never separately named or seen. Yet in creation He is the person of the Godhead who actively works; for "all things were created by him and for Him; and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist." (Col. 1:16-17.) It is not, then, the Father, as distinct from the Son, that is here the object of adoration, but God, the Creator, including Father, Son, and Spirit. All creature glory is merely derived, and the elders, though crowned, and even associated with God in judgment, fall down and worship the ever-living One, casting their crowns before the throne, and owning that He only is worthy of honour, glory, and power; for by Him and for Him all things exist and were created.
Judgment Committed to Christ
In the last chapter God was worshipped as Creator. We now see Him as "judge of the earth" committing "all judgment unto the Son," and giving "Him authority to execute judgment also because He is the Son of man." (John 5:22, 27.) "And I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open [and to read] the book, neither to look thereon." (vv. 1-4.) God, as we have seen, is resuming the execution of His counsels concerning the earth. The promises made to Abraham and to David, though temporarily suspended after the rejection of the Christ to whom they all pointed, are still in his thoughts; "for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." (Rom. 11:29.) "The Man of His right hand," rejected in His humiliation, has been seated on the Father's throne, while the Spirit has been on earth gathering out a people to keep the word of His patience, and baptising them into one body with their glorified Head in heaven. This is Christ's place during the formation of the Church, and not until it is caught up to Himself does He rise from the Father's throne to commence the work of judgment.
But now this has taken place, and the saints, raised or translated at His coming, are seen under the figure of the elders seated in heaven. The time of Christ's patience is ended, the time of His kingdom approaching, and the judgments preceding the kingdom about to begin. God always designed to govern the world by a man. Adam, put in trust, failed in obedience, and ruined the whole creation. After this, sin having entered, the exercise of rule necessarily involved the execution of judgment. Hence the sword of government was entrusted to Noah. But he, too, proved unworthy, and became the object of mockery to his own son. Man's effort to establish government in independence of God was confounded at Babel, and each successive hand which received the government from God proved itself unworthy to carry out His judgments. Israel failed to execute His purposes upon the Canaanites; the judges failed to maintain His government in the land; Saul failed to carry out his command against Amalek; the house of David failed to meet his righteous requirements, till the nation, already divided, was given as a prey to the Gentiles. The Gentile monarchies all failed, and were set aside, till the last of the four powers crowned man's guilt by joining with God's own people in rejecting and crucifying the Messiah. "No man was found worthy." The scroll of God's judgments cannot be unfolded by man. Nay, man cannot even look upon it; for when God is dealing in judgment, whether at mount Sinai or in these coming woes, who is there that does not, like Moses, "exceedingly fear and quake"? The strong angel's proclamation remains unanswered. All human resources have been tried, and on all may be written the words which foretold the doom of the first Gentile monarchy. "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting."
But as in grace, so in government. When man's resources are exhausted, God's power enters the scene. Well might John weep at the impotence of man to carry out the purposes of God; but God only waits till this has been fully demonstrated to bring forth the Man of His own counsels. "And one of the elders salt unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed [or overcome] to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof." (v. 5.) Here, then, an elder, who knows the mind of God, heralds Christ as the One who is to take and open the book of judgment.
What all others have failed to do, He can and will do. For He is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." The lion is a type of resistless strength, whether acting lawlessly or, as here, in the righteous execution of God's judgments, for "the King's wrath is us the roaring of a lion." (Prov. 19:12.) Long ago the figure had been used of Israel — "Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat the prey, and drink the blood of the slain." (Num 23:24.) And of Judah especially it was said, "Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?" (Gen. 49:9.) These prophecies are yet unfulfilled; for He who holds God's mighty power, symbolized by the lion, has not yet appeared in this character. He has been on earth as a lamb led to the slaughter, but not as "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." This is the character however which He now takes. He is also "the Root of David," for it is from God's purposes concerning Him that all the glorious promises to David and his house are derived.
We have not here Christ's power and dignity as Son of God. Judgment is committed to Him "because He is the Son of man." (John 5:27.) And not only so, but He owes His dominion to His humiliation unto death, because, "being in the form of God, He did not think it an object of rapine to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus" (His name as man) "every knee should bow, of things [or beings] in heaven, and beings in earth, and beings under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:6-11.)
Hence, although Christ is coming forth as "the Lion of the tribe of Judah," the executor of God's judgments, and as "the root of David," the centre of His earthly counsels, how does He appear? "And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth." (v. 6.) While God's praises as Creator are celebrated, Christ is "in the midst of the throne" in his own essential glory — the glory of God. But when earthly government and judgment are in question, He stands forth in his derived human glory as the Lamb that had been slain. He is now clothed however with perfect power, as shown in the seven horns, and possesses perfect knowledge and wisdom, as symbolized in the seven eyes, "which are the seven Spirits of God." For Christ, as man, receives from the Spirit the knowledge and wisdom of God, and thus discerns everything throughout the whole earth.
As the slain Lamb, invested with authority to execute judgment, He receives His commission from God. "And He came and took [the book] out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne." (v. 7.) And now the homage to "the name of Jesus" begins. "And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof, for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed [us] to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, and hast made them [not us] unto our God kings and priests: and they [not we] shall reign on [or rather over] the earth." (vv. 8-10.) Here Christ is worshipped, not as God, but as the slain Lamb, because "He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." According to the strict grammatical sense — which does not however always determine the meaning — it is only the elders who are said to have harps, and therefore we may conclude only the elders who raise this song. But however this may be, the four living creatures join in the adoration of the Lamb, falling down before Him in worship, thus signifying perhaps the fact that God's power in judgment, which they represent, is now placed in Christ's hands. The song is new, for though the merits of Christ's death are not new, the character in which He now appears, as the One who takes the book of God's judgment, and opens the seals thereof, is new. It is a character which He only assumes after the Church has been taken to heaven. The elders worship as priests. As a "royal priesthood" they celebrate on the harp "the praises of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvellous light." (1 Peter 2:9.) As heavenly priests too, in "the holiest of all, which had the golden censer" (Heb. 9:3-4), they have "golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints."
We have before seen that these elders represent the redeemed in heaven. Their song confirms this. If the words, "and hast redeemed us to God" were correct, the evidence would be still stronger. But though most manuscripts so read, the omission of "us" from a few copies is confirmed by the fact that in the next verse the reading undoubtedly is, "And have made them unto our God, kings and priests, and they shall reign over the earth." The word "us," therefore, is doubtful. But still the whole song, being a celebration of Christ's work in redemption as entitling Him to take the book, naturally belongs to those who represent the redeemed. Who should be so interested in the fact that men were redeemed to God by His blood, were made kings and priests, or should reign over the earth, as the redeemed themselves? All these topics, so natural for them, are omitted from the angels' song, showing that these elders have a far deeper interest in the redeemed than the angels. A difficulty may arise from the words, "and they shall reign on the earth;" but the true reading is, "over the earth;" and while it is certainly never said that the heavenly saints shall dwell on the earth again, it is distinctly promised that when Christ reigns over the earth, they shell reign with Him.
The praise of the angels follows. "And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing." (vv. 11, 12.) At the time here spoken of, the Psalmist's words are fast approaching their fulfilment: "Jehovah has prepared His throne in the heavens; His kingdom rules over all" (Ps. 103:19); and even now "His angels that excel in strength," the "ministers of His that do His pleasure" bless Him in the person of "the Son of man," through whom His rule is carried on, and who is about to have all things put under His feet. (Ps. 8:4-6.) But there is a great difference between this worship of the angels and that of the elders. The angels look at his "obedience unto death," and own that it is as the slain Lamb He is entitled to receive glory and blessing; but they say nothing about redemption. To them the central object in the cross is the perfect obedience there manifested; to the elders the central object in the cross is the redeeming work there accomplished.
But the chorus of praise does not stop here. The prophet's eye glances forward in vision to the universal adoration which will be rendered to the name of God and of the Lamb. The Psalmist knows nothing of throned elders in heaven, but he summons, not only angels, but all God's "works in all places of His dominion" to bless the Lord, (Ps. 103:22.) And here in John's vision, after the songs of the elders and of the angels, the praises of creation also rise. "And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them [or, "all things in them "], heard I saying, Blessing, and glory, and honour, and power, be unto Him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four living creatures said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped." (vv. 13, 14.) The words added in our version, "Him that lives for ever and ever," are without authority, and spoil the passage. For the worship rendered to God in this chapter is not to God as Creator, or as the Eternal, but to God sitting upon the throne of judgment, and to Jesus as the slain Lamb, to whom the judgment is committed.
These two chapters, then, form the introduction to the judgments which follow the rapture of the Church, and usher in the day of the Lord. The present dispensation of grace having come to an end, God takes up again the thread of His schemes of earthly government, of which Christ is always the centre. He appears in the first chapter as Creator, about to assert His rights over the world He has made, and ever mindful of the covenant into which He entered with Noah. Here He is adored as Lord God Almighty, while Christ is not seen as separate from the glory of God, or as having any distinctive dignity as Son of man. In the next chapter, however, God is not presented as Creator, but as Judge, and then Christ appears as man, the One who had been "brought as a Lamb to the slaughter," but now stand forth armed with all God's power, as "the lion of the tribe of Judah" to avenge his chosen people, and as "the Root of David" to "judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth." (Ps. 96:13.) As such, the redeemed in heaven, the angels, and all creation, join to celebrate His praise. The worship of creation, indeed, is only anticipative, the prophet's gaze being carried on, in this, as in other cases, beyond the immediate present, to contemplate the glorious results which were to flow out of the sad scenes of judgment now about to commence.
Revelation 6:1 to 8:1.
The sealed book of judgment is now entrusted to Christ, and God begins to "do His work, His strange work, and bring to pass His act, His strange act." (Isa. 28:21.) From the sixth to the close of the eleventh chapter the judgments follow each other in regular order. The first series are those brought in by the opening of the seven seals; the second, those heralded by the sounding of the seven trumpets. These two series of sevenfold judgments embrace the whole cycle of time, from the taking of the Church to be with Christ down to the beginning of His reign over the earth. After detailing these, the Spirit carries the seer back to witness some parts of the great tragedy more closely, especially God's dealings with Israel, the last phase of Gentile lawlessness, and the judgment executed on the great harlot that has committed fornication with the kings of the earth, and become drunk with the blood of saints. We shall first examine the judgments under the seven seals.
"And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four living creatures saying, Come [and see]. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering and to conquer." One need hardly combat the thought that this rider is the Lord Jesus, and that His conquests are the triumphs of the gospel. No doubt Christ afterwards comes from heaven upon a white horse (Rev. 19:11); but a white horse only symbolizes victorious power, and, like the lion, the throne, the crown, and other emblems, is used without regard to the moral character of those with whom it is connected. Christ is called a lion, and so is the devil. God has a throne, and so has Satan. Christ has many crowns, and so has the dragon. The mere figure then of a lion, a throne, or a crown proves nothing about the nature of the one of whom it is spoken. This must be learnt from the context. So with the white horse. We must ask what the surroundings show of him who sits upon it.
Looking, then, at this vision as referring to the past, how does it resemble the spread of the gospel? Where Christ afterwards sits on a white horse it is in judgment. Did the gospel go forth in judgment? Were not its preachers to share Christ's patience? And what is there of patience here? But again, this is entirely a scene of judgment. One of the living creatures representing God in creation and judgment bids the prophet come, and bids him in a voice of thunder. How unlike a summons to witness the triumphs of God's grace! The events under the other seals are also manifestly judgments. Why then make this one seal to differ from all the rest in introducing blessing instead of judgment?
If we dismiss this strange misconception, the meaning is clear. As to the past, these six seals doubtless give a general sketch of the judgments on the earth, of the persecution of Christians, and lastly of the fall of the heathen Roman Empire. The future application is however much more important, showing that when God prepares to establish Christ's kingdom on earth the work of judgment commences. The first scene discloses a victorious warrior going forth on his career of conquest. He is armed with a bow, indicating the rapidity and wide range of his; acquisitions. A crown is given him, showing probably that he is not originally of royal descent, but obtains imperial or royal dignity by his success as a warrior after the manner of the first Napoleon. This then is nothing more than a providential scourge, not perhaps more remarkable than others with which history teems.
(Verses 3, 4.)
"And when He had opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, Come [and see]. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword." The rapid success of the conqueror under the first seal is followed by a further outbreak of war. The red horse, and the great sword given to the rider, are clearly symbolic of bloodshed. Peace quits the earth. "Nation rises against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." War and slaughter on a gigantic scale are indicated by this second seal.
(Verses 5, 6.)
"And when He had opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, Come [and see]. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures say, A measure [choenix] of wheat for a penny [denarius], and three measures [choenixes] of barley for a penny [denarius]; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine." The black horse signifies mourning and consternation. Devastating wars have brought in famine. The "pair of balances" in the rider's hand recalls the prophecy of Ezekiel concerning the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar's army: "I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem: and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment." (Ezek. 4:16.) It is a figure eminently suggestive of scarcity. The prices given also imply extraordinary dearness of the commonest necessaries of life; for it is calculated that they were about eight times the rate then current. This implies extreme suffering, not indeed among the rich, whose oil and wine are yet untouched, but among the poor, who find the cost of even the coarsest food, such as barley bread, almost beyond their reach.
(Verses 7, 8.)
"And when I had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, Come [and see]. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell [or Hades] followed with him. And power was given unto them [or him] over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death [or pestilence], and with the beasts of the earth." This crowns the misery of these four preliminary judgments. Conquest leading to blood-shed and famine, has wrought wholesale desolation and wretchedness. The pale horse, significant of haggard want and despair, has Death as its rider. Hades, the unseen world, follows in his train, as if to devour his victims, according to the vivid imagery of the prophet: "Therefore Hades has enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude and their pomp and he that rejoices, shall descend into it." (Isa. 5:14.) Death receives power over "the fourth part of the earth," there to descend with the "four sore judgments" of God — "the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence." (Ezek. 14:21.) Lands ravaged by the sword; the wretched survivors left with wasted fields and resources to die of hunger and plague; wild beasts quitting their lairs, and prowling over the desolated country; such is a picture of the woes hanging, probably at no distant period, over this world. How blessed the portion of those who, having kept the word of Christ's patience, will be kept from this "hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world!"
Here, then, are the first judgments. There is, so far, no obvious intervention of divine power. Man's evil passions, which have stirred up wars and calamities in all ages, are the only instruments seen. But it is the first breath of that whirlwind of judgment which will soon sweep over the earth. Compare this with our Lord's own words about the signs of His "coming and of the end of the age." Addressing the disciples as representing those who will then be looking for Him, He says, "And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows." (Matt. 24:6-8.) Wars, famines, and pestilences, the contents of the first four seals are, therefore, the earlier judgments predicted by our Lord Himself, as among the signs of his coming in judgment at the end of the age. A further analogy will be found as we come to the next scene.
"And when He had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled." Here, then, war, famine, and pestilence, are followed by persecution. Exactly the same thing is seen in the prophecy from which we have already quoted in Matthew. Our Lord proceeds: "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all the nations [or, the Gentiles] for my name's sake. … And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all the nations" [or, Gentiles]. (vv. 9, 14.) To what period, then, does this persecution refer, and on whom does it fall?
Granting a general reference to the martyrdom of Christians under the heathen emperors, yet the agreement of this prophecy with Matthew shows that its chief fulfilment is in the troubles preceding the coming of the Son of man. Already, as we have seen, the redeemed of the present and of past dispensations will be in heaven. Whence then are these martyrs? They must consist of those who have the word of God after the Church's departure. Does the description here given answer to this?
The Revelation says that these saints "were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held." This might apply either to Christianity or to the testimony of believing Jews after the Church as taken. But in Matthew the Jewish character of the testimony is clear, for our Lord says, "Ye shall be hated of all the nations (or Gentiles) for my name's sake." The word "the," omitted in our translation, is important; for "the nations" is the phrase used to distinguish the Gentiles from the Jews. The Lord's prophecy is, therefore, that the believing Jews, who proclaim his word in those days, will encounter the hatred of the Gentiles. No marvel; for while the Gentiles are striving for power, and pushing their schemes of aggrandisement, as shown in the first four judgments, the believing Jews will be proclaiming, not a gospel of grace for mankind, but "the gospel of the kingdom," the coming of a Messiah who will subvert all earthly dominion, establish His throne in Zion, and exalt His people above all the nations of the world. What government would tolerate such preaching? What Gentile monarchy would not seek to crush the heralds of so revolutionary a faith?
This then is what will provoke the persecution. "The gospel of the kingdom" is a phrase never used of Christianity, but of the glad tidings of the Messianic kingdom, as foretold by John the Baptist and by our Lord Himself before the nation had rejected His claim. "This gospel of the kingdom" is to "be preached in all the world for a witness unto all the Gentiles," showing that it is the proclamation of the Messiah's kingdom to the nations of the earth.
In Luke's gospel, where the prophecy relates to the events preceding the destruction of the temple and city by the Roman army, "the gospel of the kingdom" is not named, and the persecution described is not said to be specially from the Gentiles, but from Jews and Gentiles alike. "They shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake." (Luke 21:12.) The difference is important, for it helps to show that the prophecy in Matthew relates, not to the events preceding the siege of Jerusalem, but to the woes and troubles preceding the day of the Lord, the same period as that spoken of in the book of Revelation.
The sufferers, then, under the fifth seal are slain after the Church is taken, and when God has resumed His purposes towards Israel. They have to do with a God of judgment, and cry that their blood may be avenged. How unsuitable such a prayer even in the mouths of those slain, until the time of judgment arrives. Those with Christ will surely keep the word of His patience as they did on earth. Could Stephen, who immediately before his death prayed for his murderers, cry, immediately after his death, for vengeance upon them? If not, these martyrs do not belong to the Church period, but to the period when Christ is risen up for judgment. They are of those elect whom God will speedily avenge, because they "cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them." (Luke 18:7.) The Psalms are filled with their prayers: "Arise, O Lord; let not man prevail: let the Gentiles be judged in thy sight. Put them in fear, O Lord; that the nations may know themselves to be but men." (Ps. 9:19-20.) And again, "Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man; seek out his wickedness till thou find none." (Ps. 10:15.) This is not language for a Christian under persecution, but becomes those who are associated with Christ when the clays of His patience are over, and He is acting in judgment towards the world.
White robes are given them as tokens of Christ's approval But they are still left as souls under the altar; not raised like the elders who are already perfected by the redemption of their bodies. There are other martyrs yet to die, and they must remain until these also have suffered.
"And I beheld when He had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair; and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casts her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every freeman, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"
Of course this is not to be literally taken. Such a convulsion would be the total destruction of the universe, whereas the world exists long after these events. It is then a figurative description, borrowed from the magnificent prophecy of Joel concerning the events preceding the day of the Lord "I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come." (Joel 2:30-31.) A portion of the imagery is taken also from the words of Isaiah, describing "the indignation of the Lord upon all the nations" [or Gentiles], where he says, "All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll and all their hosts shall fall down, as the leaf falls from off the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig-tree." (Isa. 34:2, 4.) These passages show not only the time and circumstances, but the proper interpretation of the figures used in the Revelation. The time is before the coming of "the great and terrible day of the Lord." The circumstances are God's judgment of the nations. The interpretation of the figures is the overthrow of the powers of the earth by great social and political convulsions. This is the meaning to be attached here to the "great earthquake." The sun, the supreme authority, is obscured, and the lesser powers, the moon and stars, are either disturbed or utterly overthrown. Places of strength and security, the mountains and islands, are removed; and a general shaking of all the kingdoms follows the wars that have raged, and the wretchedness and anarchy they have brought in their train.
This vast disruption fills all hearts with dismay. Christ's return in judgment had been foretold; and though the world then scoffed, this wide-spread overthrow recalls the prophecy, and a shudder of coming judgment seizes the people. There is no repentance, no cry for mercy, merely a terror of vengeance, and a frantic desire to escape shown by their calling on the mountains and rocks to fall on them, and hide them from the dreaded wrath. But their horror is premature. The judgments preceding the great day of wrath have begun; but not the day itself. Man will be allowed to go on a little longer in his sin to show that this fear dues not change his heart, but that with him, as with Pharaoh, each judgment, when passed, only increases its desperate hardness.
There is something fearful in the thought of a world crying out to be sheltered "from the wrath of the Lamb," the wrath of the meek and lowly One, who "was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for out iniquities." But it is a solemn truth. The same voice which now says, "Come unto me," will, if His tender invitations are refused, at length say, "Depart from me, ye cursed." Now is the day of salvation; then will be the day of judgment; and surely every shaft of judgment will be barbed by the memory of slighted grace.
Interval Between the Sixth and Seventh Seal.
After the sixth seal comes a pause, during which we see a faithful remnant who are saved on earth, as we have already seen one saved for heaven. This remnant consists of two companies; first, a definite number from Israel; and next, a countless multitude from the nations.
I. We see the saved remnant of the twelve tribes of Israel (vv. 1-8): "And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." (vv. 1-3.)
The "four angels standing on the four corners of the earth" are the ministers of God's judgments, occupying even the remotest regions of the world. The "four winds of the earth" are those disturbing elements existing in all quarters, which God can at His will let loose in judgment. Thus Gog, the great hostile hewer named in Ezekiel, is said to "ascend and come like a storm" (Ezek. 38:9); and Jehovah, when delivering Israel from her enemies, is described "as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest." (Isa. 32:2.)
What, then, is signified by the earth, the sea, and the trees? The earth in Scripture is used for the nations under settled, stable government; while the sea is a figure naturally suggestive of multitudes, especially of people in a disorganized condition. Thus among the few symbols explained in this book we read that "the waters which thou sawest, where the whore sits, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." (Rev. 17:15.) In another chapter the last Gentile monarchy is described as rising "up out of the sea" (Rev. 13:1); and in Daniel all the four beasts which represent the four Gentile powers come out of a weltering scene of confusion and anarchy, where "the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea." (Dan. 7:2.) The figure is in frequent use, as where the Psalmist speaks of the Lord as stilling "the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people." (Ps. 65:7.) A tree, on the other hand, is a well known Scripture figure of a great one of the earth: "The day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low: and upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan." (Isa. 2:12-13.) The meaning of the imagery therefore is, that God is about, through his providential agents, the angels, to let loose various elements of social convulsion on the nations under settled government, the troubled mass of the peoples, and the great ones of the earth.
But before this vast upheaving begins God remembers His elect, and provides for their safety. For their deliverance an angel ascends "from the east." The east is the quarter of the sunrise, and how will God's elect then be occupied? They will be looking for "the Sun of righteousness to arise with healing in His wings." (Mal. 4:2.) In our dispensation the believer is to look to the east, to have his eye fixed on the "bright and morning star," the herald of the coming day. In the time described in this scene the east is still the quarter of hope, and though the Lord himself does not yet appear for His people's deliverance, His angel ascends to mark them in the forehead with "the seal of the living God." This is not "the Holy Spirit of God" sealing "unto the day of redemption." (Eph. 4:30.) The Spirit will not then be given as now but the angel, one of those "ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Heb. 1:14), sets the seal of the living God, the pledge of life and deliverance, in their forehead. It is as "the Son of the living God" that Christ builds a church secure against the power of hades. It is as sealed by the living God that these later saints will be secure against the power of death. The shafts of death and hades glance harmlessly aside from those who are protected behind the shield of "the living God."
"And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand." (vv. 4-8.)
Here the number is clearly symbolic, twelve being the number of administrative perfection, as seven is of mystical or heavenly perfection. Thus there are twelve patriarchs, twelve apostles, and here twelve thousand sealed from each of twelve tribes. Why the tribe of Dan is omitted can only be conjectured. It is not because the tribe is cut off; for in the new division of the land foretold by Ezekiel Dan occupies the northernmost portion. (Ezek. 48:1.) Looked at historically, this remnant doubtless represents the Israelite believers in the early Church; but the historical fulfilment is, as we have seen, only a subordinate one, and the main scope of this prophecy is still future. What therefore we here learn is, that before the woes about to fall on the earth after the sixth seal, a remnant out of the twelve tribes of Israel will be specially marked out by God for deliverance.
II. But besides this sealed multitude from Israel, we see another countless throng of Gentiles, also reserved for blessing. (vv. 9-17.) "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." (vv. 9, 10) This multitude are "clothed with white robes," the symbols of righteousness, and "have palms in their hands," the symbols of victory. Their song ascribing deliverance to "God which sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb," is very different from the praise of the Church — "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood;" and from the song of the elders in proclaiming the worthiness of Him who was "slain, and hast redeemed to God by thy blood out of every kindred." These victors say nothing of the blood or redemption, but merely ascribe salvation to God on His throne, and to the Lamb. Yet we afterwards see that they had "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Whence, then, the silence on this subject in their outburst of praise?
It arises from their circumstances. The throne before which they stand is not one of mercy, but of righteousness, and the Lamb is here seen, not as slain for sin, but as executing judgment. As the souls under the altar prayed that their blood might be avenged, so these saints have been crying for deliverance by the judgment of their adversaries. Christ's coming is to them deliverance from earthly tribulation and establishment in earthly blessing. The prophet's eye looks forward to the complete result when their praise ascends to God and to the Lamb, as having thus intervened for their salvation. The grace of God in giving His Son, or the love of Christ in redeeming them with His blood, is not here the subject of their thoughts, but rather the delivering might which has interposed in judgment on their behalf. This is the constant theme of the Psalms. "Therefore shalt thou make them turn their back, when thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy strings against the face of them. Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength; so will we sing and praise thy power." (Ps. 21:12-13.)
The angels' response to the cry of this multitude is in a like strain. "And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders, and the four creatures, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen: blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen." (vv. 11, 12.) Comparing this with the song of the angels in chapter 5, we no longer find "the Lamb that was slain" to be the prominent object. No doubt Christ as man takes the kingdom by this title. Here, however, the subject is not the title, but the fact. The angels give praise that God's kingdom is at length established in manifest power and glory, while the deliverance thus wrought is the subject of thanks to the palm-bearing multitude.
But the true character of this scene unfolds as we advance: "And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said unto me, These are they which came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (vv. 13, 14) These victors, then, are persons who have come out, not merely of "great tribulation," but of "the great tribulation." Now "the great tribulation" which is the true reading, is an era as definite as the day of the Lord, or any other clearly-marked Scripture epoch. It is the period mentioned in passages already quoted from Jeremiah, who calls it "the time of Jacob's trouble," and declares that "he shall be saved out of it;" the period spoken of by Daniel, who says it is a "time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book;" the period named by our Lord Himself, who also emphasises its unparalleled character.
This is "the great tribulation out of which these Gentile victors come; for the sorrows, though having their focus among the Jews, reach out to "all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." Whatever secondary application therefore this prophecy may have to the Church in the early period of persecution, its principal reference is to another and very different class of sufferers. The Church will never enter into the "hour of temptation." These, then, are believers existing on earth after the Church is taken, and looking for the coming Messiah. Though not of Israel, they trust the word specially spoken of that day, "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of Jehovah shall be delivered." (Joel 2:32.) They have therefore "washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
Now why is "the great tribulation" named here? And why are we shown a vision of those who pass victoriously through it? The introduction of such a subject would be wholly unmeaning if it were not that the narrative has now brought us to the very verge of this dreadful epoch. The judgments described under the first six seals are providential visitations of a terrible nature, but they are only the beginning of sorrows." The heavier judgments attending "the great tribulation" are about to commence, and two things are therefore first displayed. The one is the sealing of a definite symbolic number from the twelve tribes of Israel, showing that they shall still be preserved, and preserved in administrative perfection, through all these impending judgments. The other is a vision from which we learn that a countless multitude of Gentiles will also pass victoriously through this period, and be dignified with special marks of God's favour.
Everything here agrees with God's ways of dealing with the world after the Church is taken. The distinctive blessing of the Church is, that it does not came into the great tribulation; while the blessing of those here named is that they come victoriously out of it. Their praise, too, is quite different from that of the Church, referring, not to redemption through Christ's blood, but to salvation through His power. It is the acclamation of persons delivered, not from their sins, but from their oppressors. Besides, while the Church consisted of a remnant of Israel, together with saved Gentiles, they were, when once converted, "baptized by one Spirit into one body," and formed in Christ "one new man;" whereas nothing is more marked in this scene than the prominence given to Israel, and the difference between God's ways towards these tribes and towards the Gentiles. The hundred and forty-four thousand are sealed beforehand as the special objects of God's case; the others only appear at the close, when the marks of victory are seen upon them. This is natural; for in the judgments preparatory to the Messianic kingdom Israel will be the peculiar object of God's counsels and love. That they should be sealed before the judgments is therefore quite consistent with the principles on which he will then be acting, while it is also consistent that multitudes of Gentiles will be saved though not thus specially distinguished.
But some may think that, since this multitude stand "before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands," they must be in heaven, instead of being a saved remnant on earth. We must remember, however, that the scene is symbolic, and so regarded it is quite consistent with their being in the world. If it is on earth that they wash their robes, and make them white, why should it not be on earth that they wear them? If they are conquerors on earth, why should they not carry their palms on earth also? The multitudes in heaven are said to stand "around the throne," but these are said to stand "before" it. This position does not imply that they are in heaven. During Christ's reign God will have His earthly throne, and Christ's glory will be manifested on earth. Even now believers can "come boldly unto the throne of grace" without being in heaven, and surely similar language might be used about God's people when His presence is vouchsafed to them as it will be at that time. Standing "before the throne and before the Lamb" may therefore only mean special nearness of access to God, such as Moses enjoyed, in the way in which He will then be approached.
The association in which they are placed also favours this conclusion. The sealed thousands of Israel are manifestly delivered, and reserved for earthly blessing; for the object of their sealing is that they may be uninjured by the judgments. Now though the Gentile multitude is separately named, yet its association with the Israelites shows that it forms an outer circle to this sealed remnant, sharing the same kind of salvation. Indeed the words, "came out of the great tribulation," can only refer to persons brought through it, not to those falling in it; for deliverance from this time always means escaping with life, not suffering death. Moreover, in the case of the souls under the altar, and those afterwards slain by the beast, their martyrdom is distinctly mentioned, and they are presently seen as living and reigning with Christ, and having "part in the first resurrection" (Rev. 20:4-6), whereas nothing of the sort is spoken about this white-robed multitude. And surely if they had joined the elders and the angels in heaven something would be said to show their presence. But the company in heaven is just the same in this chapter as before; nothing indicates that a fresh multitude has entered.
This countless number of Gentiles, then, represents those who have, during the great tribulation, believed on the coming Messiah, and at length, after severe sufferings, escaped with their lives. Their reward is then told. "Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: and He that sits on the throne shall dwell among [or rather, "tabernacle over"] them." (v. 15.) This does not mean that they are in heaven. The aged Anna "departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day." (Luke 2:37.) The longing of the godly remnant to dwell in God's temple is constantly expressed in the Psalms. "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Jehovah of hosts! My soul longs, yea, even faints for the courts of Jehovah: my heart and my flesh cries out for the living God." (Ps. 84:1-2.) This blessing therefore is strictly in accordance with the longings of the saints during the millennial age.
Believers in heaven dwell in the Father's house, or with Christ but it could hardly be said that God tabernacled over them. This He did, however, in the pillar of cloud in the wilderness; and this He will do when He shall "create upon every dwelling-place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: and over all the glory shall be a covering. And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain." (Isa. 4:5-6.) Thus the blessings which these multitudes enjoy are those promised to the millennial earth.
"They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." (vv. 16, 17.) These are blessed promises, but promises fitted for an earthly rather than a heavenly people. In the eternal state "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." (Rev. 21:4.) Then tears and sorrow, pain and death, are all done away, while the blessings of the Gentile multitude are rather exemption from trouble and protection from evil. They shall neither hunger nor thirst. To an earthly people just rescued from suffering, but still in the scene of their privations, this promise is most gracious, but how little appropriate to those dwelling in the Father's house.
These blessings too are those promised to the earthly people during Christ's reign. For He will come and "say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them for He that has mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall He guide them." (Isa. 49:9-10.) This is not a prophecy about heaven, but about restored Israel; for it goes on to declare, "I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh," and concludes by saying that "all flesh shall know that I, Jehovah, am thy Saviour, and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob." (v. 26.) And though these blessings are promised to Israel, the same prophecy shows us also a Gentile remnant, who share, at least in part, the same portion. "It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth." (v. 6.)
Again, speaking of the time "when Jehovah of hosts shall reign in mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously," it is said that "He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of His people shall He take away from off all the earth." (Isa. 24:23, 25:7, 8.) The time then at which this prophecy in the Revelation receives its fulfilment is neither during the Church period, nor in the eternal state; and the place is not in heaven. It is a prophecy about people on the earth during that blessed age when Christ, having judged his enemies, will reign in righteousness and peace over the nations of the world. Looking back then on this and the previous chapter, we see the connection and meaning. The first six seals record the earlier judgments following the rapture of the Church.
After these "the great tribulation" is about to begin. At this moment God remembers His elect of Israel, and the judgment is stayed, figuratively, till these are sealed for deliverance. But His grace includes also multitudes of Gentiles. These indeed, not being then His peculiar object, are not sealed like the Israelites; but the vision, passing forward to the close of the tribulation, displays them robed in white, and with palms of victory, enjoying the nearest access to God, and in the fullest enjoyment of His care and favour during the period of the Messiah's reign. This interval therefore is not, as some have supposed, an interruption in the orderly development of events. It marks the conclusion of the lighter judgments recorded under the first six seals, and shows God's gracious care of His elect during the heavier judgments that are yet to follow. Or if we compare this book with our Lord's prophecy in Matt. 25, it marts the division between the "beginning of sorrows," named in the first verses, and the "great tribulation," foretold later in the discourse.
"And when He had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half-an-hour." The prophecy then goes on, "And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets." (v. 2.) Some have thought that the seventh seal inaugurates the reign of Christ, and that the seven trumpets refer back to another set of previous judgments. The text however, both by its silence and its words, points to an opposite conclusion. It makes no mention, expressly or by implication, of the reign of Christ having come. On the other hand, the apparition of the trumpet angels seems to be just us much the development of the seventh seal as the apparition of the warrior on the white horse was the development of the first seal. The solemn preparations in the interval after the sixth seal appear to show that the opening of the seventh seal must be followed by very great results, and it is clear that the half-hour's silence in heaven is no adequate fulfilment of such expectations. Yet no other result is stated, unless the appearance of the seven angels is so regarded.
This then seems to be the natural sequence, and indeed the only sequence which the text admits. From the opening of the first seal to the sounding of the last trumpet is one consecutive series of events. The first six seals disclose a number of judgments preceding the great tribulation. The drama then pauses while God declares His purpose of saving a multitude, both from Israel and from the Gentiles, amidst the sorrows of this dreadful time. After this announcement the tragedy proceeds. The last seal is opened, and the response is the appearance of the seven angels to whom the trumpets are given. As these trumpets are successively sounded the various judgments of the great tribulation are unfolded. The opening of the seventh seal is therefore a most momentous event, and its deep solemnity is marked by the brief, but impressive, silence in heaven. At the sounding of the last trumpet, which really does introduce the reign of Christ, there are "great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ" The "silence in heaven" is as appropriate to the opening of the seventh seal as the "great voices in heaven" are appropriate to the sounding of the seventh trumpet. For while the last seal inaugurates the age of the world's supreme suffering, the last trumpet inaugurates the age of its supreme blessing.
We now come therefore to the second and heavier series of judgments heralded by the angels with trumpets.
Revelation 8:2 to 11:18
The solemn silence in heaven which follows the opening of the seventh seal is succeeded by a vision of seven angels. "And I saw seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets." (Rev. 8:2.) The sound of a trumpet is a familiar figure in Scripture. It was the loud sound of a trumpet that accompanied the thunderings, and lightnings, and the thick cloud at the giving of the law, when "mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because Jehovah descended upon it in fire." (Ex. 19:18.) No more fitting symbol, then, could herald the dreadful judgments that are now to follow.
But before these begin a new form appears. "And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer: and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into [or unto] the earth and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake." (vv. 3-5.)
Who is this angel? It should be noted that during the trumpet judgments, "the Lamb" is never named. This section of the book is distinguished by the exclusive action of angels. Now in dealing with Israel God not unfrequently presents Himself in angelic form. Thus in the burning bush it is sometimes Jehovah that is said to be seen, and sometimes His angel. So in Isaiah it is said, "In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them." (Isa. 63:9.) In Malachi Christ's coming is similarly described: "The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger [or angel] of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, says Jehovah of hosts. But who shall abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appears? for He is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap." (Mal. 3:1-2.) It is then in this character, as the angel of the covenant, that He will be looked for by the faithful remnant during the time of the great tribulation. It is a form characteristic of His relationship with Israel, especially at that period, when, though again mindful of His covenant with them, He has not yet manifested Himself as their Saviour and Messiah. But it is not a form in which He never has to do with the Church. In the passage before us it is probable that the angel is Christ, who, though not yet publicly entering into relationship with His people, still, by His work of intercession on their behalf, saves and sustains them in the midst of their sorrows.
They are, indeed, in sore distress. The sealed remnant of Israel, named in the last chapter, are now about to be cast into the sevenfold furnace of the great tribulation. Already the cry is ascending from many a heart, "How long wilt thou forget me, O Jehovah? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?" (Ps. 13; 1) Already a remnant of Israel are praying, "Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name's sake. Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God? let Him be known among the heathen in our sight by the revenging of the blood of thy servants which is shed." (Ps. 74:9-10.) The time of their deliverance is not yet come, but their groans and cries for judgment on their adversaries are heard.
Their prayers are presented before God by the angel, probably Christ Himself with "much incense." The incense burnt on the golden altar at the time of prayer (Luke 1:10) symbolised the perfect acceptance of Christ giving efficacy to the people's petitions. So in this figurative scene. The altar stands before the throne, not here the mercy-seat, but the throne of judgment; and from this golden altar of incense, the prayers of the remnant for deliverance and judgment rise to God, perfumed with all the fragrance of Christ, and draw down a speedy answer.
Burning coals from the altar — not now the golden altar of intercession, but the brazen altar of judgment, where the consuming fire of God's righteousness continually burns — are put into the censer, and cast down upon the earth. How unsuited to God's present ways of grace! How suited to the coming day of judgment, and the then circumstances of His oppressed and suffering saints! From the very censer in which the prayers of the saints are offered, and, therefore, harmonising in character with them, the fire of God's righteous judgment is hurled down upon the earth, and at the same time "voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake" mark his indignation. Voices, and thunderings, and lightnings had issued from the throne before, but the earthquake is an additional feature, inaugurating the most disastrous scenes in that overturning which will go on till He come whose right it is to take the diadem and reign. Then follow the trumpets. "And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound." (v. 6.)
"The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: [and the third part of the earth was burnt up] and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up." This is, of course, figurative. The judgments, restrained in the last chapter, are now let loose, and the earth, the sea, and the trees, are all visited with the pent-up tempests of wrath that are poured out upon them. Hail is used elsewhere as a symbol of sweeping desolation: "Behold, the Lord has a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand." (Isa. 28:2.) And of this very time it is written, "The hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies." (v. 17.) Fire is another well-known symbol of judgment. In the plagues of Egypt, from which many of these figures are borrowed, the two are combined. "And the Lord sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground." (Exod. 9:23.) Here the hail and fire are "mingled with blood," showing that the judgments symbolised are destructive of life.
The consequences are terrible. "The third part of the earth was burnt up" — for this is in the best manuscripts — shows destructive judgment over a third part of the ordered, civilized nations of the world. "The third part of trees" signifies, as already shown, the great ones of the earth. The burning up of "all green grass" may refer to the withering of the means of support; or, if grass is here used as a figure of man in his frailty, it indicates a destruction of the choicest and most vigorous portion of the human race, such as the wholesale slaughter of young men called out to serve in war.
(Verses 8, 9.)
"And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed." Here again Scripture itself furnishes the key to this vivid symbolism: "Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, says Jehovah, which destroyest all the earth: and I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee a burnt mountain." (Jer. 51:25.) Such was the doom pronounced upon the city and empire of Babylon. The "great mountain burning with fire" then is some powerful state, which, becoming itself ablaze with revolutionary passions, falls, as it were, like a conflagration among the mass of the peoples represented by the sea, causing frightful wars, immense loss of life, and wide-spread ruin of commerce, all strikingly pictured by the sea turned into blood, the living creatures killed, and the ships destroyed. The scene may be illustrated by the great French Revolution, when the powerful kingdom of the Bourbons became a living crater of anarchical frenzy, kindling the whole of Europe into flame, and belching forth for a quarter of a century bloodshed, misery, and ruin over every quarter of the globe.
(Verses 10, 11.)
"And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great turning as it were a star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp [or torch], and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters and the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter." This figure signifies some person in high, though subordinate, authority, who, falling from his place, corrupts and poisons the very springs of life. It appears not to be so much a political as a spiritual apostacy, diffusing some deadly falsehood, which works like a poison in the heart and conscience, producing moral rather than physical death. Such is the figure used by Moses to describe the bitter fruits of idolatry among the Israelites, who are warned, "lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turns away this day from Jehovah our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that bears gall and wormwood." (Deut. 29:18.) We may illustrate the state of things from history by referring to the fearful spread of infidelity that accompanied the revolutionary outbreak already named.
(Verses 12, 13.)
"And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise." The sun symbolizes supreme, the moon derived, and the stars subordinate, authority. Thus in Joseph's dream Jacob, the head of the family, his wife, and his eleven sons, all heads of families, but still subordinate to their father, are represented by "the sun, and the moon, and the eleven stars." (Gen. 37:9.) What is foreshadowed here therefore is a general collapse of government over a third part of the earth, all authority, high and low, supreme and subordinate, being, as it were, obscured throughout this region. A somewhat similar figure is used to express the abasing of all other powers during the millennial reign: "Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when Jehovah of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously." (Isa. 24:23.) In this passage, however, it is the paling of earthly authorities before the brightness of Jehovah's kingdom, while in the Revelation it is their prostration before the hurricane of judgment then sweeping over the earth.
It will be observed that in all the first four trumpets the judgment falls on a "third part" of the earth, the sea, or whatever else is its subject. It is said of the dragon that "his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth." (Rev. 12:4.) Now the chief seat of the dragon's rule, as we shall see, is the revived Roman Empire, to whose last head he gives "his power, and his throne, and great authority." (Rev. 13:2.) This has led some to think that the third part of the earth named in the trumpet scenes is the re-established Roman Empire; but whatever the fraction may mean, it is probable that the judgments here portrayed do fall, at least to a great extent, on this part of the world. There it is that the light of the gospel has shone with the clearest lustre, and been quenched in the deepest night. There it is that the great apostacy figured by Babylon has had its seat. There it will be that, after the true Church is taken, men will be given up to "strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thess. 1:11-12.) There too it will be that the last head of the Gentile powers will raise himself in impious rebellion against "the King of kings," and gather his armies for "the battle of that great day of God Almighty." Nothing is more likely therefore, morally speaking, than that the heaviest blows of judgment will fall on this part of the world, and more especially that deadly delusion symbolized in the plague of the bitter waters.
The trumpets are clearly divided into two classes. The first four, which we have already looked at, have a somewhat common character; the other three are of an entirely different kind, and are distinguished as "woe trumpets." They are preceded by a proclamation foretelling their solemn and dreadful burden "And I beheld, and heard an eagle [not an angel] flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth, by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels which are yet to sound." (v. 13.) The phrases "inhabiters of the earth," and "they that dwell upon the earth," which are only different translations of the same word, occur several times in this book. They seem to regard the earth as the scene, not only of man's residence, but of his hopes and affections; and thus to imply a moral character, like that which Paul bewails among professing believers, "whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things." On these "inhabiters of the earth" judgment is about to fall, the eagle by which the woes are announced probably signifying the swiftness with which the blows will descend; for "when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction comes." When God begins in judgment, it is "a short work" that He "will make upon the earth."
"And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit." (vv. 1, 2.) This and the next woe are marked by their manifestly Satanic character. The fall of a star is, as before, the apostacy of some great, but subordinate, power, only here it is plainly not an earthly power, but one of the principalities and powers who rule the darkness of this world, one of the wicked spirits in heavenly places. To this baleful star is given permission to let loose infernal darkness and torment on the earth. He has "the key of the pit of the abyss," the unfathomable or bottomless pit, in which evil is restrained before receiving its final doom. It is here that "the spirits in prison" are confined (1 Peter 3:19); here that Satan will be shut up for a thousand years before his last rebellion and everlasting punishment (Rev. 10:1-3); here that the angels who sinned are "delivered into chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment." (2 Peter 2:4.) It is to this abode that the demons dreaded they would be sent when they besought Jesus, "that He would not command them to go out into the abyss," or deep. (Luke 8:31.) And now from this gloomy prison-house rolls forth a dense volume of smoke, blinding the heart to God's light, and polluting all healthy influences, as figured by the darkening of "the sun and the air."
But this is not all. Direct demoniacal power is let loose. "And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads. And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he strikes a man. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them." (vv. 3-6.) The figure of locusts is probably taken from the prophecy of Joel, where they are called the Lord's "great army," and where their ravages are magnificently described. They are a scourge equally known and dreaded in eastern lands. The air is darkened by their vast numbers as they approach, and no green thing escapes their voracity. Their overwhelming hosts and man's utter helplessness before them seem to be the features here specially alluded to, for their action is quite different from real locusts, which inflict no torment on man, and destroy the grass and foliage which these creatures are forbidden to touch.
While resembling locusts in their overwhelming numbers and power, they have stings like scorpions, and so dreadful is their torment that men desire death. Death however "shall flee from them," for this is not a plague of slaughter and ravage, but only of intense suffering. The persons injured are "only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads." Since, then, the sealing was not for the Gentiles, but merely for a select number from the twelve tribes, we may infer that it is only the reprobate portion of Israel who are subjected to the fearful, though not fatal, anguish inflicted by this army of tormentors from the, bottomless pit.
The nature of these locusts is then described: "And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions. And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings; and in their tails was their power to hurt men five months. And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue has his name Apollyon." (vv. 7-11.) It may be admitted that historically this foreshadows the swarms who overran the East under the diabolical inspiration of Mahomet, and much ingenuity has been shown in tracing minute points of resemblance between the Arab hordes and these mystical locusts. But that this is only a secondary and far from complete fulfilment of the prophecy is clear, from the fact that while the Mahometan conquests were carried on with great bloodshed, these locusts are expressly stated not to inflict death. The main application is, therefore, to something quite different, and still future. When the event occurs the coincidences between the fact and the prediction will be evident to the eye of faith, not microscopic resemblances, which can only be detected by minute antiquarian research.
In the description of the locusts certain moral features are probably delineated. Resistless fury and show of power would seem to be indicated in the war horses and crowns; the appearance of boldness and independence, with real weakness and subjection, in the faces of men with the hair of women; destructive violence in the teeth of lions, and a conscience steeled against pity and remorse in the breastplates of iron, while their progress causes a mighty commotion like war-chariots hastening to battle. The injury they inflict is with their tails, alluding probably to the words of Isaiah, "The prophet that teaches lies, he is the tail." (Isa. 9:15.) Such explanations of the symbols are suggested; but without professing to unravel all the details of this mystical prophecy, we may discern its general character. It is not a material, but a moral plague, that the followers of Apollyon, "the destroyer," inflict. The locusts leave behind them a spiritual desert, the scorpions inflict their torment on the heart and conscience, but there is no destruction of physical life. The ravages of the infernal host are confined to the unbelieving Israelites, and are limited in duration, as indicated by the term of five months.
Such, then, is the first of the three "woe trumpets." Proclamation is made, "One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter" [or after these]. (v. 12.)
"And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates." (vv. 13, 14.) "The golden altar" is the altar of incense or intercession, which stood, though separated by the vail, before the throne of grace or mercy seat. In the figure it is the same place at which the angel offered up the prayers of the saints. It is from the horns of this altar, signifying that it is in answer to the prayers, that the command to loose the angels in the river Euphrates goes forth. This surely shows that the fulfilment primarily in view is future. The horsemen from the Euphrates represent, according to the historical view, the countless hordes of Turks who overran and eventually destroyed the eastern Roman Empire. But without disputing that the prophecy thus received a partial fulfilment, how could this be an answer to the prayers of saints, as shown by the voice coming from the golden altar? No saint could ever have desired such a scourge; nor, indeed, could the prayers of saints during the present dispensation ever have taken such a form. But when Christ is judging the earth, and the saints cry to God to avenge them of their adversaries, such a scourge may most consistently be let loose in answer to their requests.
The Euphrates was the boundary of Roman rule, which seems to indicate that while the first woe falls upon the unbelieving Israelites, this second woe falls on the revived Roman Empire. In accordance with this view we shall presently see that it is the head of this empire who inflicts the severest persecutions on the saints, so that it is on him and his people that the judgments might be expected chiefly to fall. The destroying host is one prepared beforehand, but restrained until this period. "And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared [not "for an hour," but] for the hour, and day, and month, and year, for to slay the third part of men." (v. 15.) Here again we find "the third part," confirming the inference that this blow is directed against the resuscitated Roman Empire. Ingenious calculations have been made on the theory that in prophecy each day stands for a year, to show the length of time which this woe lasted, and to harmonize it with recorded historical events. But "the hour, and day, and month, and year," do not signify the duration of the woe, but the time of its commencement. The outbreak of this woe had been determined even to the very hour when it was to begin.
"And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. For their power [or rather, "the power of the horses"] is in their mouth, and in their tails for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt." (vv. 16-19.) The judgment comes with the swiftness of the horse, and has the destructive power of the lion. The countless throng of agents — two hundred million — shows its resistless force, and the complete flooding of the district under visitation. Fire and brimstone, the extreme form of judgment, the symbols of eternal punishment, and smoke, with its darkening power, are the instruments of destruction. But besides this, a direct Satanic agency is typified in the tails formed like serpents, having poisonous heads with which "they do hurt." There is not only moral death, but physical. Vast destruction of life, besides Satanic poison infused into souls, marks this woe, the details of which will be understood by the wise when it happens, but can only be generally gathered now.
Terrible as this woe is, it produces no repentance. "And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts." (vv. 20, 21.) We know not what form idolatry will take in the last day, though this book afterwards gives us some hint. But here and in other places we learn the humbling truth that the direction towards which "the progress of the age" is ultimately drifting is the institution of idolatry, in some shape or other, among the civilized nations of the earth. Doubtless it will take some specious and intellectual form, appealing to the natural religious feelings, as in its earlier manifestations it always does, but by God it is simply classed with other heathen abominations. Idolatry and moral corruption are the two great sins denounced by the old prophets, the sins which brought ruin on God's ancient people. History repeats itself; for with all his discoveries and inventions man's moral nature remains everywhere the same. And here in the closing days of the Gentile monarchy the same two sins, idolatry and moral corruption, again draw down the judgment of God.
How solemn a picture of the extent to which man's heart may become hardened against God, that even this dreadful visitation produces no salutary effect. Given up to "strong delusion that they should believe a lie," those who once despised God in His grace will at length despise Him in His government; and each successive stroke of His judgment will only render them more callous and defiant, until at last, like Pharaoh, they walk blindfold into the very flood which is to swallow them up. Such is man. How marvellous the grace that could stoop to the fallen state of creatures so degraded and undone, and purchase them for glory at so inestimable a price! "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift."
Appendix to the Sixth Trumpet.
(Rev. 10:1 to 11:14.)
There is what has been called a parenthesis or interval between the sixth and seventh trumpets as there was between the sixth and seventh seals. But there is this difference: the sixth seal had been opened, and its full effect experienced, before the events mentioned in the interval are detailed; whereas the second woe, which the sixth trumpet inaugurates, does not end until the events of the interval have been fully described. This shows that while the events of the earlier interval are preparatory to the judgment under the seventh seal, the events of the later interval are supplementary to the judgments under the sixth trumpet. This we shall see to be important, as throwing light on the part of the earth, and also on the period of time, in which this woe falls.
The interval deals with two subjects; first, the proclamation of the mighty angel, declaring that the "mystery of God" is shortly about to be finished; and second, the condition of that part of the earth on which God's thoughts are centred, just before the event foretold by the angel takes place.
I. The proclamation of the mighty angel. (Rev. 10): "And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: and he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth, and cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices. And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write and I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not." (Rev. 10:1-4.) That Christ is elsewhere described under the figure of an angel we have already seen. He is called "the angel of the covenant," and it is in this title that He comes for the deliverance of Israel, with whom His covenant is established. Now this, as we shall see, is just the time at which we are arriving, and nothing therefore is more appropriate than that Christ should appear in His angel character. The description of the "mighty angel" confirms this. He is clothed with a cloud, Jehovah's dwelling-place in judgment; as it is written, "Clouds and darkness are round about Him, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne." (Ps. 97:2.) It was from "the cloud," or as Peter calls it, "the excellent glory," that God testified His pleasure in Jesus on "the holy mount" and it is "in a cloud with power and great glory" that the Son of man will come for the deliverance of His chosen people. The angel also has a rainbow upon or over his head. This is the token of God's everlasting covenant with the earth, and was before seen encircling His throne. The face "as it were the sun," and the "feet as pillars of fire," also closely resemble the figures applied to Christ in the first chapter.
There can be little doubt, then, that the angel here seen is Christ Himself. He has "in His hand a little book," not sealed, like the former, but open. A sealed book is a book whose contents are not yet revealed; an open book is a book whose contents are revealed, if not understood. The sealed book must be opened; the open book must be eaten and digested; for though revealed by God, it needs to be learnt by man. We have already beheld the opening of the sealed book, and shall presently behold the eating of the open book. The first book was sealed because it was new; for though shadows of the coming sorrow appear in the prophets and in our Lord's own words, the orderly marshalling of the judgments under the seals and trumpets was an entirely fresh revelation. This other book, however, would appear to be the open book of prophecy, which the writer of the Revelation was now to ponder and understand.
Now the book of prophecy declares that "the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein." It also declares that God's Anointed shall have "the nations for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession." In accordance with these and countless similar prophecies, the Angel, who is Jehovah's Anointed, sets "His right foot upon the sea, and His left foot on the earth," thus taking possession of the whole world, the land and the sea, the people under settled government, and those still in a rude, disorganized condition. But His first work when He receives "the nations for His inheritance" will be judgment: "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." The first sound therefore when taking the dominion is "the king's wrath" which Solomon describes "as the roaring of a lion." (Prov. 19:12.) Such is the terrible voice that He utters, and the roll of the seven thunders, whose solemn import still remains shrouded from our ken, betokens the going forth of His indignation.
And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by Him that lives for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things that are therein, that there should be time no longer [or "no longer delay"] but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as He has declared to His servants the prophets." (vv. 5-7.) The meaning of this is clear, and the details are instructive as showing the way in which this book reverts to Old Testament thoughts. Throughout the whole of these trumpet judgments Christ is not seen as the Lamb that was slain, but either as "the Angel of the covenant" or as the Anointed of God. He takes the earth, not in virtue of His work on the cross, which is not named, but as the One whom God, in His sovereign rights as Creator and "possessor of heaven and earth," has resolved to set over the works of his hands. In the fifth chapter, where God appeared as Judge, Christ was seen as the Lamb slain. In the fourth chapter, where God appeared as Creator, the Lamb was not seen. So here, where God is spoken of as the eternal, the One "that lives for ever and ever," the One "who created heaven, earth, and sea, Christ is again beheld, not in his human character, but as the "mighty angel" declaring God's purposes. These purposes are, that there should "no longer delay," but that "the mystery of God" should now be brought to a close.
The real force of the words "when he shall begin to sound," is "when he shall sound, as he is about to do." This, with the expression, "there shall be no longer delay," fixes the time. It is just before the seventh trumpet, when "the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ." (Rev. 11:15.) Then "the mystery of God" will be finished.
The mystery often means the Church, but this is not its meaning here. The whole of the present epoch is a mystery; that is, a secret purpose which God had not previously revealed. "The sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow" were no mysteries; for it was of these that the prophets had spoken. But though there were passages showing that a longer or shorter time would intervene between these poles of prophecy, yet the purposes of God concerning this period were not revealed, and both its moral features and its duration were therefore a mystery. The mystery, then, which was now to be finished, is that gap, unfilled by former prophecies, which begins with Christ's rejection, and ends with His glorious return to reign over the earth. This is the mystery which the angel swears shall now be brought to a close. We are thus clearly brought to the very verge of the millennial reign of Christ, and whatever events in the historical view may be foreshadowed by this prophecy, its main reference is manifestly to the future.
"And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which stands upon the sea and upon the earth. And I went unto the angel and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before [or rather, "about"] many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." (vv. 8-11.) here, as with Ezekiel, the roll when eaten "was in my mouth as honey for sweetness." (Ezek. 3:3.) But however sweet to the mouth, where the contents are, as with the prophet, "lamentations, and mourning, and woe," the inward digestion must be exceedingly bitter. So it was to John. The open book was a book of judgments, judgments, indeed, already foretold, but not yet comprehended in all their bitter import. Now John learns God's full purposes of judgment towards the world, and sweet as was the sense of this privilege to the taste, the knowledge proved, as it must ever do, bitter to the inward parts.
Such is the double action of God's word in judgment. Looking at God and His glory, the Psalmist says, "The judgments of Jehovah are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb." (Ps. 19:9-10.) But when man is looked to, the effect is sadly otherwise. His guilt and rebellion turn the sweet into bitter, the food into poison, life into death, so that in view of these same judgments the prophet exclaims, "Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!" (Jer. 9:1.) One sees both effects in their perfection in the blessed Lord Himself. After upbraiding "the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done because they repented not," we read that "in that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight." (Luke 10:21.) Here He is occupied with God's side, and finds His ways sweet as honey. But afterwards He looks forward to God's judgments in the light of man's guilt, and then all the yearning sorrow of His heart breaks forth in tears. "And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it, saying. If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace." (Luke 19:41-42.)
The knowledge thus obtained was to be used. Hitherto John's prophecies had been the contents of the sealed book, whose judgments were then first unfolded by Christ. Bunt the contents of the open book he had now eaten were to form at least a part of the prophecies he was yet to deliver. Having received divine intelligence to understand the book of prophecy, he was now to be its exponent, and "must prophesy again concerning many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings."
II. This brings us to the second topic of the interval following the sixth trumpet, the condition of that part of the earth on which God's thoughts are centred just before the event foretold by the angel takes place. (Rev. 11:1-14.) One most prominent subject dealt with by the ancient prophets is the conflict to be waged between the Gentile oppressor and Jehovah, who takes the part of his suffering people, executes judgment on their enemies, and sets His Anointed on his throne in Zion. This subject forms a principal feature in the rest of the Revelation, which casts fuller light on the purposes of God announced in the old prophets. It is taken up at once, and the new prophecy opens to our gaze the city and temple of Jerusalem. "And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: [and the angel stood], saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months." (Rev. 11:1-2.)
We learn from other scriptures that before the great tribulation multitudes of Jews will have returned to their land, and that their temple will have been rebuilt. This is while the Gentile rule still lasts, and while the bulk of the Jewish people are yet in unbelief, aiming at national advantages by political means rather than looking for deliverance from God. Such is the state of things here disclosed. The prophet's eye is carried back to a time preceding the great tribulation, and the course of events in connection with the temple and Jerusalem is traced down from that time to the closing moments introduced by the seventh trumpet. The temple is seen, and is called "the temple of God," and the altar, and the inner circle of worshippers are owned. But the mass of worshippers, as typified by "the court without," where the people prayed, are not acknowledged. Here the inner and outer enclosure of the temple are used as symbols of the real worshippers, God's elect people, and the mass of empty unbelieving profession around them. The bulk of the nation have not yet returned to Jehovah, but are placing dependence on the Gentile power with which they are in alliance. Hence they are still defiled, and their city, though holy according to God's counsels, is yet trodden down for forty and two months.
The reason for this term we shall consider hereafter, but at present we shall follow the course of the vision. "And I will give power [or efficacy] unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God [or rather, "Lord "] of the earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceeds out of their mouth, and devours their enemies and if any man will hurt them, he must this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven that it rain not in the days of their prophecy; and have power over waters to turn them to wood, and to smite the earth with all plagues as often as they will." (vv. 3-6.) These witnesses are "olive trees," having oil, or the anointing of the Holy Ghost. They are also lamps, shedding forth the light of the Spirit amidst the "gross darkness" in which at this time Jew and Gentile are both enveloped. Their number s significant. During the Church period, while the Holy Ghost dwelt on earth, there was full, heavenly witness, seven candlesticks sending out their light. The sevenfold light is now transferred, as it were, to heaven, where the "seven lamps of fire burn before the throne." (Rev. 4:5.) But God will not be without a testimony on earth, and therefore two witnesses — not two persons — but the smallest number for adequate evidence according to Jewish law, are raised up even in this dark day. The meaning of the symbol is, that God gives a sufficient testimony throughout the whole of this period, "a thousand two hundred and threescore days," or the "forty and two months," during which the holy city is trodden under foot by the Gentiles.
What then is this testimony? The witnesses are "clothed in sack-cloth," a familiar expression of mourning and humiliation before God. Believers in our dispensation are told to "rejoice in the Lord alway." Rejoicing suits those who have the knowledge of accomplished redemption; sack-cloth suits those who feel and own their sin, and are crying to God for salvation. The garments of mourning will be as appropriate to the suffering Jewish of the Church remnant as the garments of praise are to the Church. These witnesses stand "before the Lord of the earth." Now, though Christ has already the right to the earth, this is not the title which He takes during the Church dispensation. At present He is not of this world, and His redeemed people are not of this world. But when the Church is taken to the Father's house, and this heavenly dispensation comes to an end, God will resume His plans of earthly government, of which Christ's lordship is at once the solid foundation and the glorious headstone. The woes recorded in this book are God's judgments preparing the way for this event and the testimony raised up during the period of these woes is God's witness to this event.
Hence the attitude of these witnesses to their opponents is not that of Christians, but that of Elijah, who prayed for drought, and called down fire from heaven, and of Moses, who turned water into blood, and smote the earth with plagues. This is God's way in government, but it is quite foreign to His present long-suffering grace. Here, then, we are breathing the atmosphere so familiar in the Psalms, among a mourning, suffering remnant, holding God's truth under persecution, sustained by his power against their adversaries, and praying, not for the conversion, but for the destruction, of their oppressors. The testimony, therefore, is not that of Christians proclaiming thc gospel of God's grace, but of the Jewish remnant proclaiming again the gospel of the kingdom, the glorious and triumphant advent of the Messiah.
Their miraculous powers are given just so long as their testimony lasts. But God's time for intervening on His people's behalf is not yet fully come, and hence, after their witness is ended, they are still subject to the persecution of their adversaries. These are at present headed by one called "the beast," of whom we shall hear much more as we go on with the book. "And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our [or rather, "their"] Lord was crucified." (vv. 7, 8) This makes it clear that the scene of their testimony is Jerusalem. Whatever wrong the Lord's name may have suffered at Rome, and however truly Rome may be pointed to in the secondary or subordinate applications, it would surely be doing unpardonable violence to the text to maintain that any other city could be meant than the city where our Lord was actually put to death, that is, the city of Jerusalem. The vision of the altar and the temple in the first verse, the character of the testimony borne by the two witnesses, and the prophecies of the Old Testament, at some of which we shall presently look, are all confirmatory of this view, which, indeed, the language of the text imperatively demands.
Jerusalem is looked at in two very different lights, according to its place in God's counsels and to its actual condition. We have both views in this chapter. In speaking of God's purposes, and the guilt of the Gentiles in treading it down, it is called "the holy city." But here, when looked at in its spiritual state, under the power of "the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit," it is spoken of as in the deepest moral blackness, reeking with the filthiness of Sodom, and lying under the judgment of Egypt — the city where man's guilt had culminated in the rejection and crucifixion of the Lord.
Here, then, we get two forces drawn up in array against each other, with Jerusalem as the arena of conflict. God has raised up an adequate testimony, not to His grace, but to His government; while "the beast" tries to crush this testimony and to destroy the witnesses. Though somewhat anticipating, it will be well to enquire what these antagonistic forces are.
And first, let us look at the witnesses. Their testimony is, as we have seen, that of a mourning remnant in Jerusalem. Now when and why do we find a remnant of Jews thus lamenting? It is in connection with the return of the Messiah. God has declared that Jerusalem shall become "a cup of trembling unto all the people round about;" that "all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces;" and that the governors of Judah shall be "like a torch of fire in a sheaf and they shall devour all the people round about, on the right hand and on the left, and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem" But connected with this there is a grievous mourning: "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son;" there shall be "a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon." (Zech. 12:2-11.)
Deep mourning, therefore, among the faithful Jews precedes their national deliverance. In Luke, too, we read of the sufferings of the godly portion of the nation just before the glorious advent of the Messiah. "There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the, earth for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws nigh." (Luke 21:25-28.) Thus we see that on the eve of Christ's return in power and glory, the godly remnant of the Jews will be in profound distress and misery, bewailing their guilt in rejecting the Messiah, and plunged into the extremity of suffering by the persecution they endure, and the general convulsions and judgments around.
This is the very state of things so vividly pictured in the judgments that follow the sounding of the trumpets. And besides this general correspondence of character, the time itself exactly coincides. In Luke and Zechariah, the troubles described were those immediately preceding Christ's coming and reign. What, then, have we in the Revelation? We there see the lamp of testimony as to God's government of the nations once more kindled at Jerusalem; we see the strong angel, who represents Christ, taking possession of the whole earth, and swearing that there shall be no longer delay; we see the promise that on the sounding of the last trumpet the mystery of God shall be finished; and we see, looking a little forward, that when the seventh trumpet is blown, "the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ." These scriptures then, no less than the character of the witnesses themselves, show that the subject of the testimony they are now sending forth is the speedy return of the Messiah to judge His enemies, deliver His people, and establish His throne.
Such is one party to this great controversy. What then is the other, called "the beast"? We learn here that he "ascends out of the bottomless pit," puts to death the witnesses, and exercises power in Jerusalem during the twelve hundred and sixty days of their prophecy, or the last forty-two months that the holy city is trodden under foot by the Gentiles. In Rev. 13 he is described as having seven heads and ten horns. One of his heads was "wounded to death, and his deadly wound was healed, and all the world wondered after the beast" The dragon gives "him his power, and his throne, and great authority," and all "that dwell upon the earth worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life." Power is "given unto him to continue forty and two months," during which time he blasphemes God, and makes war with the saints and overcomes them. Rev. 17 speaks of him as one "that was, and is not, and shall be present;" also as coming "out of the bottomless pit;" and going into perdition, while it explains his seven heads to be "seven mountains." In Rev. 19 he makes war with Christ, and is "cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone."
Combining these descriptions, it seems that "the beast" is the head of the Gentile kingdom which rules over Jerusalem just before Christ's glorious advent, and has its seat in the seven-hilled city, or Rome. Now the Roman empire was the last of those four great monarchies which, according to Nebuchadnezzar's dream, were to hold sway during the times of the Gentiles, and to be broken in pieces by Christ's coming, as the stone "cut out without hands," and setting up his own dominion over the earth. This power disappears for a while, as signified in the head wounded to death; it "was and is not." But it "shall be present," for the deadly wound is healed, and in this last time at which we are now looking it reappears with a specially infernal character, typified by its rising up out of the bottomless pit, and becomes Satan's chief tool in persecuting the witnesses who are prophesying of Christ's return and of the coming kingdom. For three and a half years, or forty-two months, the beast makes war with the saints, speaks blasphemies against God, and at length heads the confederacy against the Lord and against His anointed, in which climax of wickedness he meets his fearful doom.
A passage from Daniel further illustrates this. To him was revealed God's governmental ways during the times of the Gentiles, or the period during which Judah is set aside and the sceptre transferred to Gentile hands. Four monarchies successively arise — the Babylonian, the Persian, the Greek, and the Roman. This last is figured as a "beast dreadful and terrible … and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots; and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things." Then the Ancient of days comes in judgment, and "because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake, I beheld, even till the beast was slain." Afterwards "one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven," to whom is given "an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away." (Dan. 7:7-14.) From the explanation we learn that "the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise." The little horn comes up "after them, and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time," which, as we shall presently see, means three and a half years. Then the judgment sits, the dominion of the little horn is taken away, and the kingdom "given to the people of the saints of the Most High." (vv. 23-27.)
Here the statements are perfectly simple. The fourth beast is the Roman Empire. This great dominion was at length overrun by the barbarians, thus receiving a deadly wound, from which, humanly speaking, it seems impossible that it should recover. As a united political power it disappeared, being divided into independent kingdoms, which historians have reckoned at ten in number. This is the present state of things. The Roman empire is no longer in existence. It "was, and is not." But the separate kingdoms into which was broken, though often fluctuating in extent and number, yet remain; and out of these kingdoms, in the last days of Gentile supremacy, will arise a king, like the little horn in the vision, who subverts three of the ten independent sovereigns, and revives in some form or other the long vanished unity and power of the old Roman Empire. This king will blaspheme the Most High, and persecute His saints, for a term of three and a half years, until judgment overtakes him, and the Son of man receives the dominion, the kingdom being taken from the Gentiles and "given to the people of the saints of the Most High."
Nothing can be clearer, then, than the identity between this little horn and "the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit." Both are heads of the strangely-revived Roman Empire. Both have dominion in Jerusalem, which is yet under Gentile supremacy. Both blaspheme God and persecute the saints. Both exercise their sway during the last three and a half years of Gentile rule. Both are cut off in judgment by the coming of Christ, who restores Israel to her promised place of superiority among the nations, and establishes His own righteous kingdom over the world.
Such, then, are the times described in this chapter of the Revelation: the Jews returned to Jerusalem and the temple rebuilt; a number of true worshippers owned, but the mass of the people yet in unbelief; the city again recognized as holy according to God's purpose, but as to its actual condition defiled, unrepentant, and still under a foreign yoke; true witnesses testifying of the coming Messianic kingdom, but the last head of the Gentile powers yet permitted to persecute them to death.
The Gentiles, and "they that dwell upon the earth," rejoice over the suppression of this testimony, little suspecting that in spite of the death of the witnesses, the prophecy is on the very eve of fulfilment. "And they [or some] of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their deal bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth." (vv. 9, 10.) Here two classes are distinguished, the nations or Gentiles, and the dwellers on the earth. Of the former "some," no doubt a vast majority, rejoice, and in their triumph will not even allow the bodies to be buried. But still louder in their exultation are the other class, "they that dwell upon the earth." This name is, as we have seen, not a local, but a moral description, indicating earthly-minded people. To such persons, loving and living for the world, the prophecy of the witnesses, foretelling a kingdom of righteousness and judgment, is intolerable. Their joy is therefore intense when they hear that the hated witnesses are slain, and the voice of the dreaded testimony silenced.
But their triumph is brief. Only three and a half days have passed by when they are terrified by a miraculous display of God's power, showing His acceptance of the fallen witnesses and His wrath against their exultant destroyers. "And after [the] three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they [or I] heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a [or the] cloud, and their enemies beheld them. And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven." (vv. 11-13.)
"The first resurrection" is for the most part already past. The blessed Lord Himself was "the first fruits of them that slept." "Afterward they that are Christ's at His coming" will be caught up to meet Him in the air. This coming of Christ for His saints is before the period of tribulation which these chapters detail. The Old Testament saints and the Church have their part in this first resurrection, and have been seen in heaven before the judgments we are now considering had commenced. But by a further act of quickening power two other classes have also part in the first resurrection. These are "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." (Rev. 20:4.) Thus the first resurrection includes three classes; first, those who are raised before these sorrows begin, and are already seen in heaven under the figure of the four and twenty elders; second, those "beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God," whose souls were beheld under the altar on the opening of the fifth seal; and third, those who suffer death for refusing to worship the beast and his image. To this class the slain witnesses belong.
Their resurrection is striking and public, the very malice of their enemies contributing to enhance its glory; for while the earth is ringing with rejoicings over their downfall, while their unburied corpses are decaying in the streets of the city, they are suddenly filled with fresh life, and caught up to heaven, like Christ Himself, in a cloud, or rather in the cloud, the express emblem of the divine presence. "And their enemies beheld them." What a sight! More appalling than the handwriting on the wall of Belshazzar's palace, and pointing to a still more terrible doom. At the same moment an earthquake shakes the city, and seven thousand men are cut off in the midst of their exultations. The survivors, affrighted, render homage to God, glorifying Him as the God of heaven. But there is no repentance; no recognition of His claims to the earth, now about to be asserted; no submission to the truth which the raised witnesses had proclaimed. There is natural terror, and the religious awe which natural terror inspires; but no exercise of conscience, no faith, no bowing to the testimony of God's word. And yet the trumpet announcing its fulfilment is just about to sound: "The second woe is past; behold, the third woe comes quickly." (v. 14.)
"And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ [or "the kingdom of the world" (meaning "the world-kingdom") "of our Lord, and of his Christ, is come"] and He shall reign for ever and ever." (v. 15.) Such is the burden of this last trumpet, ushering in the reign of our Lord and of his Christ, of Jehovah and His anointed — that glorious reign in which "He shall judge the people with righteousness, and the poor with judgment;" in which "the righteous shall flourish, and abundance of peace so long as the moon endures;" in which "all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve Him." (Ps. 72.) To this groaning creation it is art hour of unspeakable blessedness, of deliverance "from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God." (Rom. 8:21.)
Why, then, is it called a woe? To "the inhabiters of the earth" it is indeed a woe, the greatest of all woes. However creation may smile, however the tried remnant of God's people may rejoice, however the countless multitude of the believing Gentiles may give thanks, to the earthly-minded, the persecutors of the saints, the rulers and oppressors of the world, it is a time of judgment and unsparing retribution. This causes joy and thanksgiving in heaven, especially among the saints, who now behold for the first time God's rights over the earth fully established, and Christ occupying the place to which He is entitled, both as the Creator of all things, and as the Lamb that was slain: "And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats [or thrones], fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast [and art to come]; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth." (vv. 16-18.) The details of this last woe are not here recorded, though some of them are given in later chapters. But the grand result is the end of all lawless and godless authority, and the establishment if the world-kingdom of Jehovah and His anointed. The language and the scene both recall the second Psalm. The witnesses had proclaimed the coming kingdom, sending forth the, warning, "Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve Jehovah with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little." (vv. 10-12.) But instead of heeding the exhortation, "the nations rage, and the people imagine a vain thing. The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against Jehovah, and against His anointed, saying, Let us break their hands asunder, and cast away their cords from us." Thus the great powers of the earth are in confederacy to resist Christ's dominion. How vain their efforts! "He that sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision." Next comes judgment, such as those preliminary woes at which we have been looking in the Revelation: "Then shall he speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure." But all this is only preparatory to His great object: "Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion." The King now speaks, and further announces God's purpose: "I will declare the decree: Jehovah has said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." But these are now in the hands of kings who have been taking counsel against him. The nations are angry, and wicked men are destroying the earth. The first work therefore must be judgment; and so the decree goes on, "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."
Who can fail to see the analogy between the Psalm and the Revelation, or to discern that they are both speaking of the same thing, the establishment of Christ's world-kingdom in Zion, "the city of our God?" This kingdom is everywhere spoken of as inaugurated by solemn judgments. To follow the figure of a well-known parable, the rejected nobleman has "returned, having received the kingdom," and His solemn sentence is, "Those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither and slay them before me." (Luke 19:11-27.) Such is the issue of the seventh trumpet, over which the elders in heaven, representing the glorified saints, now utter their rejoicings. They give thanks to God under His Old Testament name, a name associated with His covenants as to the earth, "the Lord God Almighty." They speak of the world-kingdom as His; for the kingdom of Christ is also the kingdom of God. When Christ reigns as man He is just as much the obedient servant, not doing His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him, as He was in the days of His suffering and humiliation. The perfection of His rule is that instead of exercising it in independence and self-will, as both Jew and Gentile had done, He exercises it in perfect subjection to the will of God. It is therefore Jehovah's kingdom, and in the prophets and Psalms is indifferently spoken of as Jehovah's and Christ's. Sometimes it is said, "Jehovah reigns," and sometimes "the King," as distinguished from Jehovah, is described as reigning. Both are true; for on the throne, as in His humiliation, His word holds good, "I and my Father are one." This unity is beautifully shown in "the voices in heaven;" for after declaring that "the world-kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ is come," they go on to say, not "and they shall reign," but "He shall reign for ever and ever."
The effects of the reign here briefly summarized are named in the order of importance, not of time. Thus the judging of the dead, the most solemn and momentous act of the reign, is mentioned first, though in reality it does not take place until the close. But Christ "shall judge the quick and the dead;" and though the judgment of the dead is not till the end, the judgment of the quick is at the beginning. It comprehends the distribution of reward to "the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name," and the destroying of "them which destroy the earth."
The prophets and saints here spoken of are not those already in heaven; for the whole theme here is connected with the world-kingdom which Jehovah and His Christ are now taking, and the reward or judgment of those who are still on the earth. Of the prophets who witnessed of His kingdom some, in spite of persecution, have probably escaped. These, then, are the prophets rewarded. Besides these, however, God has also His "saints;" that is, a people sanctified and set apart for Himself, "the saints of the Most High," against whom the ruling earthly power has directed his cruel hostility. But Christ now comes to "judge the poor of the people," to "save the children of the needy," and to "break in pieces the oppressor." Those Israelitish saints, snatched by His coming from the hand of their deadly foe, now receive their reward. They are placed in the position of pre-eminence lately occupied by their oppressors, and associated with Christ in the execution of judgment, with "a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance upon the Gentiles, and punishments upon the peoples; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute upon them the judgment written this honour have all His saints." (Ps. 142:6-9.) Besides the prophets and saints, there are numbers of Gentiles scattered over the earth that fear God's name. In the judgment of the nations Christ owns them as the blessed of His Father, and bids them "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Such is the reward of the believing Gentiles, of "them that fear thy name."
The other side of the picture is the destruction of "them which destroy the earth." This is a mighty and dreadful work. The Lord Jesus is "revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thess. 1:7-8.) The prophets of the Old Testament relate the destruction of the Assyrian, of Gog, and of other smaller foes. In Matthew we see the solemn judgment of the living nations before the tribunal of Christ; but in the Revelation the special judgments recorded are those of the beast and his confederates. He is the great power then destroying the earth and persecuting "the saints of the Most High." It is on him therefore that the stone falls with the most crushing force, grinding him to ponder beneath its overwhelming weight. And it is specially over his destruction that the elders in heaven now rejoice.
Having now reached the close of that consecutive series of judgments which precedes the establishment of Christ's world-kingdom, it may be well to glance back and briefly retrace the path which we have thus trodden.
The second and third chapters reveal Christ's judgment of the Church as a professing system, giving in the picture of the seven churches in Asia an outline chart of the history of Christendom from the first departure to the last phase of its existence on earth. Beginning with waning affection for Christ, it gradually becomes careless about evil, and at length stands forth either in the gross corruption of Thyatira, the hopeless deadness of Sardis, or the nauseous lukewarmness of Laodicea, a barren wilderness relieved only by the bright oasis which refreshes the eye in the weak but faithful Philadelphia.
With the end of the third chapter the Church on earth disappears. "The things which are" fade from our sight, and "the things which shall be after them" rise into view. Henceforth God is seen, not in the character He bears towards the Church, but in the character in which He reveals Himself in the Old Testament scriptures. A company appears in heaven which certainly is not angelic, and bears all the marks of representing the saints, risen and glorified, in the presence of God. The work of judgment is about to begin, and the "lightnings and thunderings and voices" issuing from the throne proclaim that it is a throne of righteousness, and not of grace, on which God is now seated. A sealed book full of judgment is in His hand, and no man is found worthy to open it until Christ, the Man of God's counsels, appears, the One to whom, as "Son of man," all judgment is committed. As "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Rout of David," He will execute God's judgments, and carry out His government on the earth. This He does by a double title, as the slain Lamb, and as the Man of God's choice. He first appears as the slain Lamb, and as such He opens the seals of the book which He has received from God.
The first four seals usher in judgments, which, however severe, are not out of the ordinary course of human events — conquest, bloody wars, famine, and widespread devastation and disease. The fifth shows persecution to be raging, and a prayer for judgment rises up from the souls of the martyred saints, which clearly indicates that the day of grace is over and the day of retribution begun. On the opening of the sixth seal there is, us if in answer to this prayer, a general shaking of the powers of the earth, and universal consternation at the prospect of the wrath which is thought to be immediately impending. All this corresponds with the famines and wars, persecutions and pestilences, foretold in our Lord's discourse as "the beginning of sorrows.
Then comes a significant pause. The judgments that follow are of a more terrible character, and a special election of God is signified, marking those who shall pass through them without suffering death. From each of twelve tribes of Israel twelve thousand are sealed in the forehead; and a countless multitude of Gentiles, though not thus sealed, are shown as passing through "the great tribulation," and obtaining the victory, having "washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Thus the line between Israel and the Gentiles, obliterated during the Church period, again appears. We find ourselves also on the confines of that "great tribulation" which, though having its centre among the Jews, expands in ever-widening circles fill its waves reach the furthest limits of the habitable earth.
After this brief respite the seventh seal is opened, and another series of judgments, more dreadful and more distinctly from God's hand, falls upon the world. These are introduced by seven trumpets sounded by seven angels, and during the course of these judgments Christ is no longer seen as the Lamb slain, but as "the Messenger of the covenant," and always in angelic character As such He offers up the prayers of the saints, and the answer is the fire of God's consuming judgment cast on to the earth, thus again showing that the day of Christ's patience is over, and a totally different dispensation begun. The trumpets follow each other in rapid and dreadful succession. The first four announce wars, tumults, delusions, and anarchy spread over a third part of the world, a phrase probably signifying the Roman Empire. But the worst is still to follow, in the three last trumpets which bring "woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth."
The first of these woes is obviously infernal in character, spiritual darkness, accompanied with torment of conscience worse than death, judicially let loose for the judgment of those Israelites who have not the seal of God in their forehead.
The second woe falls apparently on the Roman Empire, and is called for by a voice from the altar of intercession. It is a fearful scourge, having a Satanic character, and inflicting horrible slaughter and misery on the region it visits. But other purposes of God manifest themselves during the course of this woe. A strong angel, whom we recognize as Christ himself, descends from heaven and takes possession of sea and land, swearing by God, as Creator of heaven and earth, that there shall be no longer delay, but that, when the next angel sounds, the mystery of God shall be finished. The book of prophecy is given into John's hand, who is enabled to understand its bitter contents, and thus to prophesy again concerning nations and kings. Immediately on this we behold Jerusalem once more inhabited by Jews, with the temple rebuilt and the temple worship re-established. Among the worshippers God has His own saints, but the great body of the people are as yet defiled, and Jerusalem is still to be trodden under foot by the Gentiles forty and two months. During this time God raises up witnesses to his present work, and for twelve hundred and sixty days, that is, driving the last period of Gentile domination, their testimony continues. At the close of this time, however, the head of the revived Roman Empire, which is then trampling down Jerusalem, succeeds, to the great joy of the dwellers on the earth, in putting the witnesses to death. This is scarcely done when their bodies are visibly quickened, and they are caught up to heaven in the sight of their late exulting, but now terrified, adversaries, seven thousand of whom are at the same moment overwhelmed by a violent earthquake that shatters the city.
But the term of man's guilt is now reached, and at the peal of the last trumpet great voices in heaven proclaim that the world kingdom of Jehovah and His Christ is come. Thus "the mystery of God" is finished, and the reign of righteousness on the earth brought in. The dead are to be judged, though this is the last act. The prophets, the saints, and those that fear God's name, are to receive their reward; and the wicked destroyers of the earth are themselves given over to destruction.
God's People and Their Oppressors.
Revelation 11:19 to 13:18.
"And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His testament [or covenant]: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail." (Rev. 11:19.) Such is the vision introducing the new scenes which are now to pass before us. These are not a continuation of the judgments already depicted. They are another set of events, contemporaneous and connected with the former, but here expanded in much fuller detail.
The verse just quoted shows God's present thoughts. From the Babylonish captivity the ark of the covenant was lost, and never afterwards heard of. While it was in the tabernacle or temple, it was the central object, the sign of Jehovah's presence, the pledge of Jehovah's care. But the earthly things were only copies of the heavenly. The appearance of the ark in the heavenly temple is therefore a great event. Hitherto unseen, it now comes into view, a figure showing that the covenant with Israel, though long hidden from sight, is now again taking its former place in the thoughts and ways of God. The ark is the sign of security to his own people, but also of judgment to His enemies, as when the walls of Jericho fell flat, and the victorious Philistines were put to shame, in its presence. So here, the lightnings and voices speak of coming wrath on the Gentile oppressor.
We have already seen that numbers of Jews are, for at least three and a half years before Christ's coming, resident in Jerusalem, where, though for the most part still in unbelief, they have rebuilt the temple, and reinstituted the old worship. Taking Jerusalem, then, as the focus towards which everything now converges, we discern there three distinct parties; first, a faithful remnant, among whom are the witnesses proclaiming the coming of the Messianic kingdom; second, the rest of the nation, who still remain in obstinate unbelief; and third, the Gentile oppressor, who treads Jerusalem under foot, and eventually puts the witnesses to death. God's care of His own people, and His judgment of the Gentile oppressor and the head of the unbelieving Jews, are the principal subjects of this part of the book.
But there is another actor in this drama not yet brought on to the stage. Satan is no idle spectator of these scenes. Whatever is dear to God is hateful to him. When God is occupied with the Church, the Church is the object of his hostility. When God returns to Israel, Israel becomes the object of his hostility. Hence we see him here persecuting the remnant with all his fury and malignity. In the two following chapters therefore we have unfolded, first, Satan's rage against the believing Jewish remnant; next, the character and objects of the beast, the great Gentile ruler now oppressing Jerusalem and lastly, the craft and cruelty of the impostor who acts in concert with the beast at the head of the unbelieving Jews.
The Woman and the Serpent.
"And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne." (vv. 1-5.)
Now who is this woman? She is clothed with the sun, or supreme authority, and has the moon, the symbol of derived authority, under her feet, while she is crowned with full administrative power, indicated by the perfect number of subordinate authorities, the twelve stars, upon her head. This is just the place which promise and prophecy assign to Israel. She also brings forth the "man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron." This is obviously Christ. The woman, then, is Israel, "of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever" (Rom. 9:5.) It is Israel, not, of course, in her sin and shame, the byword and reproach of the Gentiles, but Israel clothed with the glory which belongs to her in the purposes of God, "to whom pertains the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises." (Rom. 9:4).
Opposed to Israel is a dragon or serpent, a creature full of subtlety, a liar and deceiver from the beginning, and, above all, the sworn foe of the woman's seed. From the fall God had told him that the woman's seed "shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel." (Gen. 3:15.) The dragon is red, the imperial colour, and has seven heads, each with a crown, showing that in the exercise of his imperial power he is guided by full deliberative wisdom; not divine wisdom indeed, and a wisdom which in the end proves fatal folly, but such wisdom as the creature is capable of without God. He has ten horns, or instruments of power, under his control. "His tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the ground," which signifies that he drags in his fatal toils a third part of the subordinate powers of the world, that part, as we shall presently see, included in the revived Roman Empire.
For though Satan is "the prince of this world," he is here seen only in connection with that portion of it which is then oppressing God's chosen people. He is the prince of the Roman Empire who moulds this state to his own image, and invests its monarch with his own authority. Hence, when the Roman Empire afterwards appears, it also has seven heads and ten horns, the ten horns being crowned, and signifying ten kings, answering to the ten horns or instruments of power which Satan wields.
Satan's great object of enmity is Christ; for the "liar from the beginning" must hate "the truth;" "the ruler of the darkness of this world" must hate "the light;" the false usurper of dominion must hate the true Anointed of God. From Christ's birth, therefore, Satan sought to destroy Him. At Bethlehem he seemed almost to have gained his end, but God's protecting shield was spread over the child. At the cross he did appear to be victorious; for there he wounded the heel of the woman's seed. But here again God intervened, and the dependent, perfect Man, who had voluntarily yielded to the power of death to accomplish the glory of God, was raised again, triumphant over every foe, and "caught up unto God, and to His throne."
A great chasm now opens in the prophecy. The Church period is sunk, its having nothing to do with the conflict between Satan and Israel. During the whole of this interval God declares Israel to be "Lo-ammi [not my people]; for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God." But now Israel's restoration is at hand; the ark of the covenant is again seen in heaven, and God sends His message, "Say ye unto your brethren, Ammi [my people]; and to your sisters, Ruhamah [having obtained mercy]." (Hosea 1:9, 2:1.) All that intervenes is buried in silence. The Church, the body of Christ, is not seen, except as it is seen in Christ Himself; its rapture is not named, except as it is included in His own.
The vision leaps at once to the closing days of Israel's rejection. "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days." (v. 6.) This, though clothed in figurative language, is quite clear. Satan, balked in his efforts to destroy Christ, now directs his malice against His people. All his wiles and power are summoned for their destruction, and they are actually driven to flight. But God still watches over them; and in the wilderness He cares for them, supplies their wants, and shields them from their enemy. The period during which they are thus hidden is twelve hundred and sixty days, the same time that the witnesses testify in Jerusalem, that Daniel's little horn is suffered to continue, and that the holy city is trodden under foot of the Gentiles before its final deliverance. This shows that the time here named is that brief period, three and a half years, preceding the overthrow of the Gentile power, the restoration of Israel, and the establishment of the Messiah's kingdom.
This will be confirmed by other prophecies, but the vision now changes to show us quite a different scene. "And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." (vv. 7-9.) No careful reader of Scripture will wonder at finding Satan in heaven. Limited as our knowledge on the subject is, we read of "spiritual wickedness," or spiritual powers of wickedness, "in heavenly places," and we see him as the devil, or asperser, accusing the brethren, and as Satan, the adversary, opposing Joshua, the high priest, and Michael, the archangel. Probably he cannot enter "the third heaven" where God dwells, but he clearly has some place in the heavens out of which he is driven by this war.
The dragon is at this time the great enemy and persecutor of God's people. Now Michael, his opponent, is "the great prince which stands for the children of God's people." He is the only "archangel" named, and is always mentioned in connection with Israel. It is he that aids the angel sent to Daniel when withstood by "the prince of the kingdom of Persia." (Dan. 10:13.) The same angel, going to contend with the princes of Persia and Greece, says, "There is none that holds with me in these things but Michael, your prince." (vv. 20, 21.) And on the eve of Jewish deliverance Michael shall "stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of thy people." (Dan. 12:1.) So in Jude he disputes with Satan "about the body of' Moses." It would seem therefore that there are evil principalities and powers directing the nations antagonistic to Israel, and that Israel itself is under the special guardianship of Michael, the chief of those blessed angels who are the ministers of God, doing his pleasure. It is significant therefore of God's revived purposes towards Israel that Michael, "the great prince which stands for" the people, is the angel who here wages war against the dragon, their relentless persecutor and traducer.
There is joy in heaven over this victory. "And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come. salvation, and strength" [or "the salvation and the strength"] "and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ; for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." (vv. 10, 11.) It is not said from whom this song comes, but only saints in heaven could speak of the suffering remnant on earth as "our brethren." It is not, therefore, the song of angels, but of glorified saints represented by the elders. The expulsion of Satan from heaven was a necessary preliminary to "the salvation, and the strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ;" indeed, so necessary, that on its accomplishment these are already said to have come. All the hindrances in heaven are removed, though, as we shall see, there are yet enemies to be overcome on earth. But Satan's power as accuser of the brethren, by which he was able to harass and distress them, is broken for ever. These saints, though thus harassed and distressed, had "overcome him by the blood of the Lamb," and had thus held their testimony against all his power, and remained steadfast even unto death.
But though Satan's expulsion causes joy in heaven, the immediate effect is disastrous to the earth. "Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to [the inhabiters of] the earth and the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time." (v. 12.) Shorn of his power to accuse the saints in heaven, he pursues them with all his rancour on the earth. Moreover, he knows that his time is brief, for the kingdom of Christ is near, and his baleful dominion is therefore drawing to a close.
Hence his whole strength is concentrated against God's people, represented by the woman. "And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child." (v. 13.) This is not a different persecution from that previously named. The narrative was interrupted to relate the war in heaven, and explain the intensity of the dragon's present rage. Having shown this, it resumes the story of his persecution, and of the woman's flight and sojourn in the wilderness. "And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that he might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. [This is the same expression translated in Daniel, "a time, and times, and the dividing of time."] And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus [Christ]." (vv. 14-17.) Thus the dragon's persecution drives the woman, the godly remnant of Israel, into the wilderness. Her flight is swift, God giving special providential aid, as signified by the "two wings of a great eagle."
It is to this time, shortly preceding the coming of the Son of man from heaven, that our Lord refers in his prophetic warning: "Then let them which be in Judæa flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." (Matt. 24:16-21.) This is often referred to the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, and somewhat similar, though far from identical, language is applied to that event in Luke. But the prophecy in Luke contains no such urgent appeals for haste; and, in fact, the advance of the Roman army left ample leisure to the Christians to quit the city, and take their goods with them. But besides this, the quotation from Daniel fixes the time. There can only be one tribulation exceeding all that have been before, and all that will come after. Now this is named in Daniel, whose words are quoted by our Lord. But as our Lord adds, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened … and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven" (vv. 29, 30); so Daniel adds, "And at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book." (Dan. 12:1.)
The great tribulations spoken of by our Lord and by Daniel are therefore identical, being the brief period of sorrow immediately preceding the deliverance of Israel, and the reign of the Messiah. At that time our Lord forewarns the faithful to flee with all speed from the city. We have the same period before us in the passage we are now looking at from the Revelation, and we see that the flight actually takes place, and that the believing remnant escape into the wilderness, into a hiding-place prepared by God, special aid being given them, as signified in the "eagle's wings," to hasten their speed.
Satan's rage is not appeased by their exile from Jerusalem. He still pursues them with his hatred, pouring out a flood to devour them. This probably means another persecution, as David says, "The floods of ungodly men made me afraid." (Ps. 18:4.) But whatever form his malice takes, God cares for His people, and a providential door of escape is opened — the earth swallows up the flood. Thus baffled, Satan turns from the fugitive remnant, who are safe in the shelter of God's providing, and expends his rage on any who may yet have been unable to take to flight, or the witnesses who may have remained behind to continue their prophecy, all, indeed, who "keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus."
In his persecution of the woman, as in all his other ways, Satan's malice only subserves the purposes of God. He uses this persecution of the faithful to "try them as gold is tried," carrying them into the very place where He can meet them. Outwardly it is Satan's rage that drives them into the wilderness, but to the eye which sees God's ways, it is He that has drawn them there. He has now visited on His beloved, but unfaithful, earthly bride, "the days of Baalim, wherein she burned incense to them, … and forgat me, says the Lord." The time is come of which it is written, "Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. And I will give her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor (trouble) for a door of hope." (Hosea 2:13-15.) It is here, in the wilderness, whither He has allured her, in this deep valley of tribulation, that He unfolds to them the greatness of their sin, shows them the riches of His own mercy, and leads them to true repentance and faith in Him. Hence it is that they emerge purified, and fitted for Jehovah's blessing.
The Gentile Oppressor.
We now see the dragon in direct antagonism with the woman. But he works behind the scenes, through his agents, for Satan always seeks to work by craft, and himself to remain unobserved. Though at this time nearing the end of his deadly sway, he is still "the god of this world," and he uses his few remaining moments with fearful energy to finish his masterpiece of deception and wickedness. God has a people whom He purposes to set above all the nations of the world. Satan will have such a people too. God has an anointed Ruler of the world, whom He will invest with His own authority. Satan will have such a ruler too. God has his Christ, the Lamb, whom He will bring forth as the deliverer of Israel. Satan will have his Antichrist, his false Lamb, who pretends to be the deliverer of Israel too. The workings of Satan are a hideous parody, so to speak, of the ways of God. This is what now comes before us.
"And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion; and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat [or throne], and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed and all the world wondered after the beast." (Rev. 13:1-3.)
Every one must be struck with the resemblance between this vision and that of Daniel, who saw "the four winds of the heaven strive upon the great sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion; … a second, like to a bear; another like a leopard. … After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; … and it had ten horns." (Dan. 7:2-7.) In both cases the beasts came up out of the sea, the struggling, unformed mass of nations, not yet moulded into coherent political societies, out of which both the Roman and the other Gentile monarchies originally arose. The beast in the Revelation combines in himself the lion, the bear, the leopard, and the last beast of Daniel's vision, while resembling the dragon in his seven heads and ten horns. It has the swiftness of the Macedonian, the voracity of the Persian, the ferocity of the Babylonian, and the mighty strength of the Roman Empire, all inspired by Satanic principles and energy.
But though heir to the whole Gentile succession, and having certain moral affinities with each of the four monarchies, it is the immediate lineal descendant of the last. We have already seen that this beast is, like the little horn of Daniel, that revived form of the Roman Empire which surprises the world shortly before Christ comes to establish His kingdom. We read that "there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he comes, he must continue a short space. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goes into perdition." (Rev. 17:10-11.) The kings in this passage mean heads or forms of government. Of these the Roman government had passed through several, here reckoned as five. The sixth or imperial form then existed, and a seventh was to arise and continue for a short space. The final form of the empire will be that embodied in the beast, who "is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goes into perdition."
The head "wounded to death," then, would seem to be the seventh, that is the last form which the empire took before its overthrow. From that time till now it disappears from view. But the wound is healed, and all the world wonders. The long-vanished empire revives, the lineal heir of the varied forms of Roman dominion, and becomes the theme of universal amazement, its head being endowed by Satan with all the power and dignity and authority which as god of this world he is able to bestow. Thus we learn the deeply solemn fact that the last form of Gentile dominion will rise from the bottomless pit, will bear the dragon's form, and will sit upon the dragon's throne. It will have a Satanic origin, possess a Satanic character, and exercise Satanic power.
But the terrific energy of evil during these last days of "woe to the earth" is shown also in another form. Satan and his human tool become the objects of religious worship. "And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?" (v. 4.) What a ghastly commentary on this age of progress and cultivation to read the words of the living God telling us where it is all to end. Man's energy and self-will only make him Satan's tool. He fancies himself free, and, in throwing off God's yoke, dreams that he has escaped from bondage, whereas he has only rendered himself the slave of sin. Christ came to deliver from the power of darkness; but if men love darkness rather than light, they still remain under the dreadful yoke. The result is that God gives them up, and Satan becomes their absolute lord. "Professing themselves to be wise, they become fools," and the terrible end, as here shown, is nothing less than putting Satan in God's place, prostrating themselves before the deceiver and destroyer of souls, and "worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever."
As long as the Holy Ghost is in the world, there is a restraint laid upon the power of evil, so that, though the mystery of iniquity already works, it cannot break through the barriers with which God has hedged it round. But when the Church is caught up to be with Christ, the Holy Ghost no longer makes His abode on earth, and then the "letting," or hindering, power is "taken out of the way." (2 Thess. 2:7.) Thus man's self-will is no longer restrained by the Holy Ghost, while Satan's malice is aroused to twofold energy by the knowledge "that he has but a short time." No wonder then that human presumption and rebellion against God become a resistless torrent, sweeping away all obstacles in its headlong course.
How long God's grace has pleaded with man! How earnest the invitations, how solemn the warnings, how tender the appeals, which have come as it were from the heart of God to a perishing world! But all has been in vain. And "he, that being often reproved, hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy." God gives man over at last to taste the bitter fruits of his own wickedness and folly. Iniquity is allowed for a time to have its own disastrous way. "And there was given unto him [that is, the beast] a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue [or work] forty and two months. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, and His tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." (vv. 5-8.)
At present we often see God practically ignored, the fool pursuing his career of sin and folly, saying "in his heart, There is no God." But in this passage there is an advance in wickedness. The time is coming, and we know not how soon it may be here, when the only god acknowledged by the great ruler of the world will be the dragon, and when God, the Creator of heaven and earth, will be derided and blasphemed. Heaven, and all in it, will be the object of scorn and hatred to "the man of the earth" (Ps. 10:18), whose heart has become the willing echo of all Satan's delusions and lies. Exaltation of self, blasphemy of God, such is the miserable folly of this vain instrument of Satan, little dreaming, in his fancied security and power, of the awful doom that speedily awaits him. During a brief period of "forty and two months" his rule will be allowed to continue, for so long is Israel to be tested, so long is Satan to have his own way, so long is man to show what he is when left to the workings of his own heart. During this time God is choosing His own people "in the furnace of affliction." (Isa. 48:10.) He lets the scorching rays of the beast's fury fall upon them that He may purge away all their dross. Hence the war against them is successful, and the beast's triumph seemingly complete. All worship him save God's elect — those whose names have, from the foundation of the world, been written in the book of life of the slain Lamb.
Here again we observe the resemblance between this beast and the little horn of Daniel. The little horn "made war with the saints, and prevailed against them." (Dan. 7:21.) The beast has "given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them." (Rev. 13:7.) The little horn "speaks great words against the Most High." (Dan. 7:25.) The beast "opens his mouth in blasphemy against God." (Rev. 13:6.) The little horn's power lasts "a time, and times, and the dividing of time." (Dan. 7:25.) The beast's power continues "forty and two months" (Rev. 13:5), which is only another way of expressing the same period.
Meanwhile the prayers of the persecuted saints are rising: "O God, the Gentiles are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps. The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth. Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was none to bury them. We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us. How long, Lord? wilt thou be angry for ever? shall thy jealousy burn like fire? Pour out thy wrath upon the Gentiles that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name. … Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die; and render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom their reproach, wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord. So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will show forth thy praise to all generations." (Ps. 79.)
Such, as we learn from the Psalms, is the language of God's saints in this terrible crisis, when the wicked man is puffing at his enemies, and saying "in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity. … God has forgotten: He hides his face; He will never see it." (Ps. 10:6-11.) But a word of comfort for the groaning saints is dropped in the midst of this dreadful scene: "If any man have an ear, let him hear. He that leads into captivity shall go into captivity: he that kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints." (vv. 9, 10) To anybody who can distinguish between God's ways in government and God's ways in grace, it will be obvious how such words agree with the former, and differ from the latter. Stephen had to do with God's ways in grace. What comfort would it have been to him, when praying for his persecutors, to tell him that they would be stoned? In this passage, however, we are in another dispensation, connected with God's ways in government; and then the promise given to His saints is, that their persecutor shall soon be destroyed; that the one who is leading them into captivity shall himself be taken captive; that the one who is killing them with the sword shall himself perish by the sword. This it was that during the short intervening time of sorrow and persecution was to uphold "the patience and the faith of the saints."
We have now seen the first half of Satan's terrible work. Civil government is received directly from the dragon, and allegiance and worship rendered to him and his instrument. But there is another part of the work of delusion and blasphemy yet to be accomplished, and at this we must now look. "And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon." (v. 11.) This beast does not, like the first, "rise up out of the sea," the troubled, agitated condition of society, but "out of the earth," a state of ordered and settled government. When we look at his character and pretensions we find that, bad as the other beast was, there is here something yet more dreadful. Looking like a lamb, he bears the external appearance of the Messiah, but to those who know the voice of the true Messiah there is an awful difference. They recognize it as the voice of a dragon, a Satanic voice.
We have only to reflect on the position of the Jewish people at this crisis in order to see the fearful craft of the imposture. Just when the witnesses are proclaiming the reign of the coming Christ, and the overthrow of the Gentile power, Satan raises up a false Christ, with all the outward semblance of the true, as if in answer to their prophecy. No wonder that people without moral discernment are deceived.
Our Lord said, "I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive." (John 5:43.) This prophecy now obtains a dreadful fulfilment. Of course Christ's sheep "know His voice, and a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers." (John 10:4-5.) This dragon voice has no attraction for their ears. They recognize not the voice for which their hearts are longing, but the stranger from whom they must flee. Thus the real Israel, God's true saints, are delivered from Satan's wiles. But alas for the bulk of the people, ever ready to turn from God, ever ready to turn to man! They have rejected the true Shepherd, and now they greedily devour the pretensions of the "idol shepherd." They have refused "the Lamb of God," and now they willingly receive the wolf in sheep's clothing. The god of this world has found them a Messiah suited to their taste, one who calls for no repentance, one who flatters their vanity instead of rebuking their sin, one who promises them the deceitful desires of their own hearts instead of the rest that remains for the people of God; and to him they listen.
But it may be asked why, since Jerusalem is not named in this vision, it should be supposed that this second beast is at Jerusalem, or exercises his power among the Jews? The answer is, that the whole of this part of the book, and the whole interest of the time concerning which this prophecy is spoken, are connected with Jerusalem. In Revelation 7 we see a remnant of Israel sealed, in marked distinction from the Gentile multitude. In Revelation 10 Christ, asserting His rights to the earth, declares that God's purposes should be speedily accomplished on the sounding of the seventh trumpet. Now when the seventh trumpet sounds "the world-kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, or Jehovah and his anointed, comes," and of this world-kingdom the metropolis is mount Zion, "the city of the great King." Accordingly, we find the state of things in Jerusalem, during the brief period before Christ's return, set forth in Revelation 11. It is there the witnesses prophecy; there the beast exercises his power; there the Gentiles trample the city under foot. Vast as is the beast's empire, the interest centres in Jerusalem, and its other parts are not even named. In the next chapter it is Israel that appears as the great object of Satan's fury; it is between Israel's foe and Israel's "great prince," the archangel Michael, that the war in heaven is waged; it is against the remnant of Israel that the dragon's wrath is directed when he is cast down to the earth. In this chapter, again, the beast, as Satan's tool, persecutes the saints against whom Satan's rage is turned, that is, the Jewish remnant. Everything, therefore, shows that God is now coming back to Israel, that the time is the brief period of Gentile oppression preceding Israel's deliverance, and that Jerusalem is the centre round which the events here symbolised cluster.
Jerusalem, then, is the stage on which the tragedy now passing before us is enacted. We shall presently see other reasons, from a comparison with various prophecies, for connecting this second beast with that city; but for the time those we have already given will amply suffice. What then is the state of Jerusalem at this moment? We learn from many scriptures that Jerusalem will before its deliverance be in terrible straits from a foreign foe, who will in that day take the place of the ancient Assyrian, both in the loftiness of his pretensions and the ambitious designs he has against Palestine. This northern power, as we shall presently see, is threatening Jerusalem during the period spoken of in the Revelation. The unbelieving mass of the people, instead of looking to the Lord for deliverance, seek shelters as in ancient times, in worldly alliances; and this false Christ enters into league, on behalf of the Jewish people, with the head of the revived Roman Empire. It is this alliance that Isaiah foretells, "Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves: therefore thus says the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation: he that believes shall not make haste. Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding-place. And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it. … For the Lord shall rise up as in mount Perazim, He shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that He may do His work, his strange work; and bring to pass His act, his strange act." (Isa. 28:15-21.)
Here, then, we have the period before the Lord rises up in His power for the deliverance of His people. Their condition in that time is set forth. A mighty confederacy is rolling like a flood against the land, and threatening to overwhelm it. The true refuge is God Himself, who has laid in Zion a sure foundation-stone. The faithful ones can rest on this foundation, and awaiting their deliverance from the Messiah, "do not make haste." The rest of the people however, terrified and unbelieving, listen to the lies of the antichrist, and under his guidance seek refuge in a covenant with death and an agreement with hell, an alliance with the wicked head of the Gentile powers, the vice-regent of the dragon upon earth. It avails them not. The scourge still overflows, their refuge of lies fails, their covenant with death is dissolved, and the Lord rises up in His power for the deliverance of His faithful people, and the judgment of all His enemies.
Now this prophecy in Isaiah exactly corresponds with what we find in the Revelation. There the false Christ becomes a sort of vassal or liege-man of the Gentile monarch. "And he exercises all the power of the first beast before him, and causes the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he does great wonders, so that he makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, and deceives them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live." (vv. 12-14.)
Here, then, we see an alliance established between the false Christ and the Roman power. Satan has before, as in Job's case, called down fire from heaven. If his civil authority, as prince of this world, is given to the first beast, the miraculous power he is still permitted to exercise is given to the second. Thus we have the civil and ecclesiastical power both directed by Satan. The healing of the deadly wound, or the revival of the Roman Empire, is evidently regarded by the unbelieving Jews as a miraculous interposition of God on their behalf. False and diabolical as this power is, they are occupied only with their own safety; have no care for God's truth, no trust in God's salvation; and instead of resting on the sure foundation stone laid in Zion, they readily acknowledge as a Saviour any one who comes with promises of present deliverance. Hence this fatal refuge of lies, this ghastly covenant with death and agreement with hell.
The ancient Roman Emperors caused themselves to be worshipped as gods, and their images to be erected in the heathen temples. But there is a hideous feature about this new and debasing idolatry which at once marks Satan's power, and explains the greedy reception of the delusion by the multitude "And he," that is the second beast, "had power to give breath [not life] unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many us would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark — the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that has understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six." (vv. 15-18.) This is what things are coming to. The chains of Satan will be riveted on everything, body and soul. The witnesses of the Messiah will be put to death, though not till their testimony is finished. The faithful ones who have not succeeded in escaping to the wilderness must suffer martyrdom; for no person can be tolerated who does not worship the beast. All must confess themselves his vassals, and receive his mark, either his name or the number of his name. The wise will at the time understand the number of the beast's name, and the mode of reckoning it. But however the number is derived from the name, it is clear that it can only be got when the name is known. All efforts then to ascertain it before the beast is known are merely wasting time.
There is a striking resemblance between the false Christ here described and "the man of sin" named by Paul. He warns the Thessalonians against the delusion "that the day of the Lord is come" (for this is the true reading), and tells them that before its arrival there will be a falling away, "and that man of sin will be revealed, the son of perdition: who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped so that he [as God] sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." (2 Thess. 2:2-4.) At present this wickedness is checked by the Holy Ghost's presence on earth; but when the Church is caught up, the Holy Ghost will no longer be here, and all hindrance will "be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked [one] be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming: even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (vv. 7-12.) The place in which this "man of sin" shows himself is Jerusalem, where "the temple of God" is; and the time of his appearance is between the Church's removal and the day of the Lord. He lasts till Christ comes, when he is destroyed "with the spirit of His mouth." He claims to be a god in man's form; that is, to be what Christ alone can be; and this blasphemous pretension is supported by "power and signs and lying wonders" which he is especially inspired by Satan to perform. He thus deceives those who, having refused the truth, are now judicially given over by God to the delusions of this impostor, and so bring upon themselves righteous judgment. In place, in time, in doom, in the character of his pretensions, in the nature of his powers, and in the success of his imposture, there is an exact correspondence between the two persons described in Thessalonians and in the Revelation.
In Daniel this false Messiah is also mentioned by the name of "the king." It is said, "The king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done. Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all. But in his estate shall he honour the God of forces … and shall divide the land for gain. And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind." (Dan. 11:36-40.)
Here is a king reigning in "the land," which when thus spoken of can only mean Palestine, the land about which Daniel was interested, and this prophecy spoken. He is "at the time of the end" and continues "till the indignation be accomplished," showing that he reigns in the last days of Gentile supremacy — until, God's indignation against Israel being ended, He once more restores her to favour. He is an Israelite; for he does not regard "the God of his fathers," an expression which in Daniel can only mean the patriarchs. Neither does he regard "the desire of women." The great desire of all Hebrew women was to give birth to the Messiah. Thus Mary was saluted by Gabriel as "highly favoured among women," when her miraculous conception of the Saviour was announced. In naming "the desire of women" between "the God of his fathers" and "any God," the connection shows that something analogous in nature, not something entirely different, is meant. Though an Israelite, he heeds neither Jehovah, the God of the nation; nor the Messiah, the hope of the nation; nor even the false gods to which the nation had so often turned. But he honours the God of forces, referring probably to the religious homage rendered by his direction to the beast, the head of the Roman Empire, and the embodiment of worldly power. In time and place, in blasphemy and self-exaltation, in rejection of God and the introduction of a new and dreadful idolatry, this king exactly corresponds with the false Christ of the Revelation and the man of sin of the Thessalonians. "The king of the north," too, who comes against him, shows the existence of that enemy against whom the fatal alliance with the beast is formed.
Our Lord's Prophecy.
We have now seen the character of the first beast, the head of the revived Roman Empire, to whom idolatrous worship is rendered, and of the second beast, the false Christ, who deceives the Jews, enforces the worship of the first beast and his image, and joins him in persecuting to death all who refuse this blasphemous homage. Two passages of Scripture throw important light on this dreadful time. The first is a prophecy of our Lord's, at parts of which we have already looked. "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso reads, let him understand:) then let them which be in Judæa flee into the mountains. … For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." (Matt. 24:15-27.)
Now let us see under what circumstances this prophecy was uttered. Jesus had just told the Jews, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord." (Matt. 23:38-39.) He then foretells to His disciples the overthrow of the temple. After this his disciples gather round Him, and as Jews inquire, "When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?" This "end of the age" was a perfectly well-understood phrase, signifying the termination of the existing age of Gentile rule, and therefore connected with the return of the Messiah, the period when the Jews would receive Him as coming "in the name of the Lord." It is in answer to this question that our Lord's prophecy, as reported in Matthew, was spoken. In Luke no doubt the prophecy is directed to the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, but in Matthew both the question asked and the reply are different. Our Lord's prophecy had doubtless a double meaning; and while Luke was led by the Spirit to select those parts referring to the siege of Jerusalem which was comparatively near, Matthew was led by this same Spirit to record those portions which answered the disciple's question about his own return and the end of the age.
The first part of the discourse is occupied with these "beginnings of sorrows" which we have already seen to correspond with the wars, famines, pestilences, and persecutions detailed under the first six seals. The second part, from which the above extract has been drawn, begins with an event of which Daniel had prophesied — "the abomination of desolation" standing in the holy place. The passage in Daniel is as follows: "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.) Daniel is here prophesying of the time of Israel's restoration and blessing, and is told that from the setting up of "the abomination that makes desolate" to this period is twelve hundred and ninety, or thirteen hundred and thirty-five days. These times are just a little longer than the forty-two months, or twelve hundred and sixty days, named in the Revelation, showing that there are three stages, one three and a half years after this event, and the other two following at intervals of thirty and seventy-five days respectively, before the full work of Israel's redemption and blessing is accomplished.
This passage in Matthew, then, teaches that there will be an abomination, which in Scripture means an idol, set up in the holy place, the temple at Jerusalem, about three and a half years before Israel's final deliverance. It is called an "abomination of desolation;" or an "abomination that makes desolate," because, as we shall see from another prophecy, this return to idolatry is visited with misery and desolation upon the city of Jerusalem.
Let us now trace the correspondence between this prophecy of our Lord's, and the prophecies of the Revelation. In Matthew we have an idolatrous image set up in Jerusalem about three and a half years before the end of the Gentile rule. In the Revelation we have the same. In Matthew the faithful are warned, on the setting up of the image, to flee from Jerusalem to the mountains. In the Revelation they do flee. In Matthew a tribulation without parallel is described as happening during this period. In the Revelation, those who survive the judgments are said to have "come out of the great tribulation." In Matthew the time is, for the elect's sake, made short. In the Revelation Satan is enraged "because he knows that he has but a short time." In Matthew there arise false Christs working wonders and signs which, if it were possible, should deceive the very elect. In the Revelation the false Christ "deceives them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do." In Matthew people are seeking for a Christ, not to appear from heaven, but to be found on earth. In the Revelation they are following a false Christ who is altogether of the earth. Finally, in Matthew the scene closes by "the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." (v. 30.) In the Revelation the scene closes by Christ coming from heaven as King of kings, and Lord of lords, arrayed in glory and majesty, and accompanied by the armies of heaven. (Rev. 19:11-16.)
Daniel's Prophecy of Seventy Weeks.
The second prophecy to which allusion was made, as shedding a flood of light on this period, is the communication made by Gabriel to Daniel, in answer to the prophet's prayer and confession with respect to the guilt and ruin of his people. "Seventy weeks," he says, "are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy." (Dan. 9:24.) Now here, not only is Gabriel's message sent in answer to Daniel's prayer about his own people and his own city, but he expressly defines his communication as referring to "thy people," which is Israel, and "thy holy city," which is Jerusalem. These, therefore, are not merely comprehended in the scope of the prophecy, but are its immediate and exclusive objects. It is the transgression of Israel and Jerusalem that is to be finished, the sin of Israel and Jerusalem that is to be ended, reconciliation for Israel and Jerusalem that is to be made, everlasting righteousness for Israel and Jerusalem that is to be brought in. Who will say that this has happened? Israel is still "Lo-ammi," "not my people," and her reconciliation and restoration are still future. Until these are accomplished the prophecy remains unfulfilled. Till then, the people and the city are under the Gentile yoke. The reconciliation will take place when the Messiah comes to reign over the earth.
The Messianic kingdom is, therefore, the goal towards which the prophecy points. Seventy weeks are to be spent in dealing with Israel before this goal is reached. It is not said that these weeks were to begin at once, or were to be continuous when they did begin. As a fact, they did not begin at once, and have not been continuous, It is quite consistent with the language of the prophecy that the work should be laid aside for a while, and then resumed; and indeed we shall see that the Jews, by their own act, interposed a break in the time, and caused God to delay the completion of His promised work for an indefinite, and as yet unexhausted, period.
Gabriel proceeds — "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times [or "the strait of time"]. And after [the] threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off and shall have nothing," as the margin correctly reads. (vv. 25, 26.) "The strait of time" may mean the shorter of the two periods. Evidently there is a purpose for dividing the whole space of sixty-nine weeks in this manner, and there can be little doubt that the seven weeks, or forty-nine years, was spent in rebuilding the city, and that the sixty-two weeks, or four hundred and thirty-four years, is the interval between the completion of this work and the Messiah. But this only accounts for sixty-nine weeks, and after this, whether immediately or not, Messiah is cut off and has nothing. Instead of taking His dominion, the point towards which the prophecy is looking, He Himself is cut off. To say that this is after the seventy weeks of the prophecy is to make the prophecy contradict itself. For it expressly says that the Messiah is cut off after "the sixty and two weeks," which makes, with the previous seven, sixty-nine in all; and what conceivable sense could there be in saying that Messiah was cut off after the sixty-nine weeks, if He was really cut off after the full period of seventy weeks had expired? There is obviously a term of one week, or seven years, remaining over, and necessary to complete the whole cycle after the Messiah's death. This fact, as well as the express language of the prophecy itself, shows that the work here spoken of, the finishing the transgression and making an end of sins, is not Christ's death upon the cross, or the redemption there accomplished, but another work altogether, the reconciliation and restoration of Israel, which, though of course resulting from Christ's death, is to take place at a later period.
Was there, then, any event that could be described as "finishing the transgression" of Israel and Jerusalem, or making an end of their sins, within seven years after Christ was cut off? Manifestly nothing of the kind. Therefore this last week does not follow immediately on the other sixty-nine, but only after an interval. Nor is it difficult to account for this. In due time the Messiah who was to fulfil all their hopes presented Himself to Daniel's people; but these, instead of hailing Him as their deliverer, refused and crucified Him. Thus, after sixty-nine weeks, He was cut off, and had nothing, while His people invoked the guilt of His blood on their own heads. What marvel that God should take them at their word, visit them with terrible judgments, and set them aside while He gathered out a people from the Gentiles? But "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance," and, therefore., after this grace to the Gentiles, or the church period, is over, He once more takes up his suspended work with Israel, and the last week runs its course. The message then proceeds — "And the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined," [or rather "unto the end, war, desolations, are determined"] (v. 26.) After the Messiah was cut off, terrible judgment fell on the Jews, The Roman army destroyed "the city and the sanctuary," with a fearful overthrow, compared to a flood, and from that time to the present wars and desolations have visited the city. These will continue to the end; that is, till the period towards which this prophecy looks forward. The Romans, who effected this destruction of Jerusalem, are described as "the people of the prince that shall come." This shows that "the prince that shall come" is not Christ, but a prince or sovereign of the Roman Empire. The prophecy goes on to speak more about this sovereign.
"And he shall confirm a covenant [not the covenant] with the many [not "many"] for one week, and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for [or "because of"] the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate [or "because of the overspreading of abominations, a desolator], even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate." (v. 27.) Now what is this week? The prophecy declares that seventy weeks are to be accomplished before the restoration and blessing of Jerusalem, and the bringing in of the Messianic kingdom. It says that after sixty-nine weeks the Messiah is cut off, not taking the kingdom. There remains, therefore, one week to be accounted for. The cutting off of the Messiah is followed by a long interval, during which the temple is destroyed, and wars and desolations visit the city. After this another week is named. What can this week be but the seventieth week, as yet unaccounted for, and now emerging. as it were, out of this long interval of ruin and desolation, to complete the unfulfilled period of prophecy? As each of the other weeks meant a term of seven years, this last week must clearly mean a term of seven years also. The period following Christ's rejection is, therefore, to culminate in a short term of seven years, the seventieth week, of which the events are here foretold.
"And he shall confirm a covenant with the many for one week." During this week there is to be a covenant between some person here referred to and "the many." Who is this person? and who are "the many"? The person is the one last named, "the prince that shall come." We have already seen that this prince is the head of the Roman Empire; for he is the prince of the people that destroyed Jerusalem. But he is not Titus, or any past Roman Emperor; for certainly none of these, after the destruction of Jerusalem, formed any compact with the Jews. Besides, this prince reigns in the last week, or seven years, before the Messianic kingdom. He can therefore be none other than the little horn elsewhere named by our prophet, or the first beast of the Revelation. This last head of the Roman Empire enters into a covenant with "the many," meaning the mass or bulk of some people. As the whole subject of the prophecy is Daniel's people and Daniel's city, this must mean the Jews. The nature of the covenant confirms this: for in the middle of the week he breaks the covenant, causes "the sacrifice and oblation to cease," and sets up some abomination or idol. Now the sacrifice and oblation can only mean the Jewish ritual and worship restored, which shows that this covenant was with the Jews, and that the "prince" has power in Jerusalem.
The events of the last week are therefore as follows: The head of the Roman Empire forms a league with the bulk of the Jewish people for seven years, in virtue of which they are to observe their own religion, doubtless under his protection. But in the middle of the week, that is, three and a half years before the Messiah's reign, he breaks the covenant, causes the worship of Jehovah to cease, and sets up some idol or abomination as an object of divine homage. The next clause should read, "On account of the overspreading (or protection) of abominations, a desolator." This means that God punishes the idolatry by sending a desolating army against Jerusalem. Hence the abomination is elsewhere spoken of by the same prophet as "the abomination that makes desolate," and by our Lord as the abomination of desolation." This desolator is the Assyrian, or king of the north, the "overflowing scourge" against which the unbelieving Jews seek to protect themselves by a covenant with death and an agreement with hell; or in other words, a treaty with this agent of the dragon and blasphemer of God named in the Revelation. The false Christ, their pretended prophet and king, is Satan's instrument in forming this deadly alliance, and in afterwards imposing upon them that idolatrous worship of the beast and his image which brings the desolator against the city.
This lasts "until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate." The desolate is Jerusalem. Her deliverance and the full end of her woes come at the very moment when the desolating force is flushed with triumph, when it has taken and sacked the city, and carried off half its inhabitants. For the Lord says, "I will gather all the nations [or Gentiles] against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall Jehovah go forth, and fight against those nations [Gentiles], as when He fought in the day of battle. And His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem." A mode of escape is then provided for His people, and the result is that "Jehovah shall be King over all the earth." (Zech. 14:1-9.) This is "the consummation," when the determined judgment having at length been "poured upon the desolate," she is again restored to favour and blessing. "Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate; but thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah (my delight is in her), and thy land Beulah" (married). (Isa. 62:4.)
The coincidence between this prophecy of the seventy weeks and those previously looked at is most striking. The little horn in Daniel speaks great things against the Most High, wears out His saints, and changes times and laws, for a time, and times, and the dividing of time; that is, for three and a half years. The seven-headed beast in the Revelation blasphemes God, makes war against the saints, and receives idolatrous worship for forty and two months; that is, for three and a half years. The prince that shall come breaks covenant with the Jews, abolishes the worship of Jehovah, and establishes idolatry in the temple for half a week; that is, for three and a half years.
The little horn is the last ruler arising out of the fourth beast; that is, the last prince of the Roman Empire. The seven-headed beast is the last ruler of the city of seven hills; that is, the last prince of the Roman Empire. The prince that shall come is the last ruler of the people that destroyed Jerusalem and the temple; that is, the last prince of the Roman Empire.
The little horn continues till the kingdom is given to One like unto the Son of man; that is, he endures till the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. The seven-headed beast continues till Christ issues forth with the armies of heaven to destroy him, and set up His own dominion on the earth; that is, he endures till the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. The prince that shall come reigns during the last half-week before the deliverance of Jerusalem and the restoration of Israel; that is, he endures till the establishment of the Messianic kingdom.
In every respect the coincidence is complete. The three persons severally described as the little horn, the seven-headed beast, and the prince that shall come, are all rulers over the same empire reign at the same epoch, endure for the same time, possess the same character, perform the same deeds, and suffer the same destruction. Every date, incident, and characteristic prove them to be the same person.
One Thousand Two Hundred and Sixty Days.
The last prophecy of the seventy weeks will enable us to settle an important question as to whether the days spoken of in these prophecies mean days or, as is often assumed, years The woman who flies into the wilderness is said (Rev. 12:14) to be nourished there "for a time, and times, and half a time," and in verse 6, to be fed for "a thousand two hundred and three score days." The words "a time, and times, and half a time" mean therefore twelve hundred and sixty days; and as these words are taken from the Greek version of Daniel, the words used by the prophet, and translated "a time, and times, and the dividing of time" (Dan. 7:25) have the same signification. This, according to the Jewish reckoning, in which a year contains twelve months of thirty days each, is just forty-two months, or three and a half years, or one-half of a week of seven years.
Now we have seen that the last half-week in the prophecy of the seventy weeks represents a period of three and a half years. It is during this time that the wickedness and idolatry of the beast manifest themselves. It is of this time then, and not of any more lengthened period, that the Revelation speaks. This is the time that Jerusalem is trodden under foot after it first appears as the centre of God's purposes. This is the. time that the witnesses prophesy. This is the time that the persecuted saints flying to the wilderness are cared for by God. This is the time that the idol is set up in Jerusalem. This is the time that the little horn flourishes. This is the time that the beast has power given him over all kindreds and nations. All falls within the last half-week, or one thousand two hundred and three score days, which closes Gentile rule, completes God's judgment of His chosen people, and ushers in the Messiah's reign.
Availing ourselves of the light which these prophecies cast upon the passage now before us from the Revelation, we see clearly the history of that period of three and a half years with which this portion of the Word is concerned. The Roman Empire will have revived, under the headship of a great and powerful prince; while a person endowed by Satan with miraculous gifts, will set himself forth as the expected Christ, and will gain ascendancy over the mass of the Jews. These will have already returned to Jerusalem, mostly in unbelief, and there rebuilt the temple, and re-established the ancient worship and sacrifices. A great power, answering to the Assyrian of old, under "the king of the north," will then threaten the returned people. To protect themselves against this power the mass of the nation, led by the false Christ, will form a treaty for seven years with the great prince ruling the revived Roman Empire. By this treaty the Jews will be guaranteed in the exercise of their religious rites. Meanwhile, however, a new testimony to Christ will spring up among a number of Jews, who reject the claims of the false Messiah.
But in the middle of the seven years a great event happens in heaven. Satan is cast down to the earth, and, being full of malice against the Lord's people, who have begun to testify concerning the coming Messiah, stirs up the Roman prince and the false Christ against them. The Roman prince, wielding Satan's gigantic power, breaks his covenant with the unbelieving Jews, represses the worship of Jehovah, and forces them to embrace idolatry. In this undertaking he is aided by the false Christ, who, using all his miraculous skill, deceives his followers, and persuades them to set up and worship an image of the Roman prince. On the erection of this image the believing Jews, who are looking for the Messiah, make their escape with all haste out of the city, and seek a refuge in the wilderness, where, in spite of Satan's efforts for their destruction, they are providentially sheltered and tended by God during the remaining three and a half years of the Roman prince's ascendancy. Others, however, unable to flee, or detained by God as witnesses, are left behind in Jerusalem, where they are persecuted to death at the hand of the false Christ and his Roman confederate.
Meanwhile the alliance between the prince and the unbelieving Jews does not prevent the invasion of the northern army, which, on account of the revived idolatry, comes as an overflowing scourge, spreads desolation over the land, and has already captured the city, when Christ suddenly descends for the relief of His faithful people. His startling appearance changes the whole scene. The northern army is destroyed. The Roman prince and the false Christ, though at a different time, are cut off. The faithful remnant of the Jews are restored, and with the remnant of Israel, blessed under the Messianic reign. These results we gather from other scriptures. The Revelation only deals with the judgment of the Roman prince and the false Christ with their followers, which is related in a subsequent part of the book. Meanwhile other scenes open before us.
Results and Warnings.
During the events related in the two preceding chapters God only works, as it were, behind the scenes. The time for showing himself to Israel has not yet arrived, though they have once more become the centre of his counsels and the objects of His sheltering care. There is now a break, during which the history of His controversy with their oppressors is suspended, until other preliminary judgments, in one of which the beast and his confederates play an important part, are brought before our view. In this chapter we have disclosed, first, the blessing of the Jewish remnant, and secondly, the threatenings and promises of God sent forth during this brief but eventful period. The blessing of the Jewish remnant on earth is not the subject of the book, but is brought in parenthetically to cheer the hearts and uphold the faith of the saints amidst the unparalleled sufferings through which they are passing.
The Jewish Remnant.
"And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Zion, and with him an hundred and forty and four thousand, having His Father's name [or, "His name and His Father's name"] written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice [or, "and the voice which I heard was, as it were,"] of harpers harping with their harps: and they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault" [before the throne of God]. (vv. 1-5.)
This scene is, like the vision of the palm-bearing multitude, anticipative. The Spirit looks forward, and gives a glimpse of the millennial blessing and glory of that faithful remnant which we recently saw groaning beneath the persecution of the Roman prince and his crafty coadjutor. We have beheld the deluded followers of the false lamb; we now behold the faithful followers of the true Lamb. Jehovah has held all the rage of men in derision, and after vexing them in His sore displeasure, has seated His King on His holy hill of Zion. There God's Anointed is seen, with a multitude of His people, symbolized by the mystical number one hundred and forty and four thousand, the highest order of administrative perfection, gathered around Him. As the followers of the false Christ had received a mark in their forehead, so these followers of the true Christ have His name and His Father's written in their forehead. The name in the forehead signifies that they bear the moral impress of the One whose lordship they acknowledge. The followers of "the man of the earth" bear his image; the followers of Christ bear His. Heaven rejoices over their deliverance and, blessing, as it rejoiced when Satan was cast down to the earth. The heavenly saints then owned these suffering ones as their "brethren," and gave thanks that their accuser was driven from heaven. They now participate in their joy as those who have triumphed over him on the earth.
A new song, which only they can learn, rises from these conquerors to the throne of God, surrounded by the living creatures and the elders. For there is a special joy belonging to those who have passed through the furnace of affliction. Several passages of Scripture seem to indicate that the ten tribes will be gathered after Jerusalem is delivered, while the Jews, who rejected Christ, will be gathered before, and will there endure the full heat of the great tribulation. No doubt it will try all the world with more or less intensity; but its most scorching rays will fall upon the Jews, and it is apparently of the redeemed Jews that this select band consists. Of the faithful portion of the Jewish people there are two classes, the martyrs who suffer death, and the remnant who escape. The blessed fate of the martyrs is presently revealed; but we here see the triumph and joy of those who survive. Others will share the blessings of the millennial reign, but none will taste all its sweetness like those who have drained the bitter cup of the preceding sorrows. To none will such special nearness to the throne be possible as to those who have tested God's strength and faithfulness in the hour of sorest need.
These were in the midst of "the dwellers on the earth;" but they have been "redeemed from the earth," and now know the blessedness of "following the Lamb whithersoever He goes." Like Him, in the days of His flesh, they have been a separated people, virgins holding aloof from the defilements of the world; and now they are the first-fruits of this new harvest of His redemption-toil. They have held and practised the truth; for "in their mouth was found no guile" or lie, while all the world was going after the falsehood of the beast. They have too been without fault, blameless, while all the world has been loving and living in unrighteousness. It does not say that they are "without fault before the throne of God," as in our translation; for though as believers their sins are all put away, that is not the question here. But the character of their walk is blameless, just as that of believers should be now, in distinction from the wickedness and corruption of the world around.
The Three Angels.
Having refreshed our gaze with a glimpse of the glories awaiting the saved remnant when the Lamb is seated on mount Zion, the ever-shifting series of visions returns to the troubles and woes of the great tribulation. In the two preceding chapters we have seen the visible agents at work; but though God's hand is not yet disclosed, He is guiding all things silently for His own glory and His people's salvation, making the wrath of men, and even the malice of Satan, all to praise Him. Not yet being in acknowledged relationship with His people, He speaks through angels, and in this manner forewarns them of the judgments about to come upon the world.
First Angel. "And I saw [another] angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters." (vv. 6, 7.)
Such is the first angelic voice. In the midst of man's wickedness God gives a call to repentance. While man is turning to idols, and worshipping the creature more than the Creator, God asserts once more His rights as Creator to the worship of those whom He has made. It is not here the gospel of His grace, but "the everlasting gospel," the claim of God on man as his Creator independent of all dispensations.
Neither we nor the millennial saints could worship God simply on the grounds on which His claim is here made to rest. We worship Him as a heavenly people redeemed by grace; the millennial saints will worship Him us a earthly people redeemed by grace; the remnant, during the great tribulation, will worship Him as the God of the promises, from whom they look for deliverance and blessing. But in this message to the dwellers upon the earth, whose hearts are now given up to idolatry, God asserts the double claim which Paul pressed upon the people of Athens — His claim as Creator, and His claim as Judge. He demands the worship now diverted from Him to idols, and warns them that the hour of His judgment is at hand.
Second Angel. "And there followed another [a second] angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." (v. 8) If God's judgment is coming on all the earth, there are two systems specially marked out for visitation. In the address to the Church at Thyatira we saw "the depths of Satan" in connection with a profession of Christianity, and learnt the dreadful doom awaiting those who had corrupted themselves with Jezebel. As long as the Holy Ghost is on earth evil is more or less restrained; and during this time no religious system, however corrupt, is called "Babylon." But after the Holy Ghost is withdrawn the empty profession comes out in all its falsehood and rottenness. Then it is that the nominal Church, no longer seasoned with the salt of true believers, becomes the offensive mass of corruption to which the name Babylon is given. Then it is that God's judgment on the false system is executed. Here we have the warning given, the details and instruments of the judgment being recorded in a future chapter.
Third Angel. "And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascends up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night who worship the. beast and his image, and whosoever receives the mark of his name. Here is the patience of the saints: [here are they] that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." (vv. 9-12.) Offensive as Babylon is to God, there is something even worse. The idolatry and blasphemy of the beast, the direct agent of Satan, is the climax of human apostacy and rebellion; and terrible is the judgment here foretold as awaiting it. Is this, then, a mere fancy picture? Alas! it is not even a picture of far-distant events. We are told to be looking for the Lord's coming to take believers to Himself. Then "the door is shut." This may be at any moment, and what then? Satan's energy for evil redoubled; the Holy Ghost's energy for good withdrawn; man given up to his own will; strong delusion, judicially sent by God to blind the eyes of those who had refused the truth; the followers of the deceiver lost for ever. Well may this gloomy picture sustain the patience of those who keep God's commandments, and hold the faith of Jesus! They may suffer grievously for their refusal to worship the beast and his image; but what are these sufferings compared with the eternal torments of those who, listening to the voice of present ease, become partakers in this blasphemous idolatry?
There is a manifest connection between the voices of these three angels. The world is divided between a lifeless superstition, having the form without the power, the name without the spirit, of Christianity, and a horrible, blasphemous form of creature-worship organized by Satan and his instruments. God first meets this by calling upon men to worship Him as Creator, the One who as man's Maker has a claim on his service, and as man's Judge will soon visit the world. He next warns men of the two things on which the lightnings of His judgment will descend with their most scathing force, the two forms of evil already spoken of. The fall of Babylon, the corrupt remnant of the Church after true believers are removed, is first announced; and then the awful doom of those who follow the delusions of the false Christ, and become the worshippers of the beast and his image.
The Blessed Dead.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying [unto me], Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and [or "for"] their works do follow them." This passage is often quoted with respect to departed believers, nor would anybody question its general applicability. But if we would rightly divide the word of truth we must beware of supposing that all the texts which are applicable to Christians were written about them. Here the words "from henceforth" show that a particular time is referred to, and that something more is meant than a mere general statement of the truth concerning the blessedness of the believing dead.
Nor, if we understand God's dealings at the period here spoken of, will there be any difficulty in seeing the special meaning intended. A thick cloud of moral and spiritual darkness is at this moment brooding over the earth, the Holy Ghost withdrawn, Satan working with awful energy and success in blinding the eyes of men, and human presumption and rebellion against God rising to its highest pitch. In this chapter we have revealed the blessed lot of those who hold the truth through this period of darkness, and then the dreadful fate of those who follow the two classes of delusion prevailing in the earth. But there is another class, those who hold the truth and yet perish during the miseries and persecutions of this disastrous time. These are the blessed dead here spoken of. They have had to choose between receiving the mark of the beast and death, and have chosen death. What then will be their portion?
This might seem an easy question, and if the reference were to our dispensation it could hardly have arisen. At present believers are a heavenly people, and should they die before the Lord comes, it is only another mode of being with Christ — "to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord." But in the time of which this part of the Revelation treats, believers are not a heavenly people. Instead of waiting to be taken to heaven, they are waiting to be blessed on the earth. This is their proper Scriptural hope. Moreover, though quickened, they are not sealed with the Holy Spirit, and have, therefore, neither the full assurance of salvation, nor the earnest of an inheritance to be shared with Christ. Death, accordingly, comes to them, not as a fulfilment, but as a frustration, of their hopes; not as introducing them to, but taking them from, their own proper promises. Hence a special word is needed, and is here sent, from God, to assure them of blessedness in another form. True the fruit of their labours is lost here, but it will be reaped in heaven, "for their works do follow them," and in the meanwhile all their toils and sufferings down here are brought to an end.
The Harvest And The Vintage Judgments.
Having shown the blessings of the faithful survivors, and also of the martyrs, during this period; having warned men of the solemn retribution about to fall upon Babylon and the followers of the beast, another class of judgments overhanging the world is now unfolded. They are of two sorts, represented respectively under the figures of the harvest and the vintage of the earth.
The Harvest. "And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And He that sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped." (vv. 14-16.)
A prophecy in Joel will cast light on this and the next vision. "Let the Gentiles be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the Gentiles round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down, for the press is full, the fats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision (or threshing): for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of His people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more." (Joel 3:12-17.)
It is clear that the scenes in the Revelation are taken from this prophecy, and describe the accomplishment of the events here foretold. We learn, therefore, the time, connection, and object of these judgments. The time is the advent of the day of the Lord, the period when He judges the Gentiles and restores Israel. Here, therefore, we see Israel to be the centre of His purposes, Jerusalem the centre of His interests, Zion the centre of His government. The Gentiles, who have long oppressed them, are gathered for judgment, and the power and glory of Jehovah are manifested on the side of His chosen people, and issue forth from His chosen city. God has permitted the Gentiles to have their day, and the pass to which they have brought things is the terrible blasphemy and wickedness of the beast acting under Satanic inspiration. At this point He must intervene in judgment — "the harvest of the earth is ripe."
Everything is connected with Israel and the Messianic reign. It is an angel coming forth from the temple — that temple in the heavens where the ark of God's covenant was lately beheld — that bids the judgment commence. It is the Son of man that executes this judgment. This is the title in which Christ takes the kingdom from God's hand (Dan. 7:13-14), intervenes for the deliverance of his chosen people (Ps. 80:17-18; Luke 21:27-28), and has all things put under His feet. (Ps. 8:4-6; Heb. 2:5-6.) As Son of man He now sits upon a white cloud, as He had foretold that He would come for Israel's salvation. As the Anointed of God He wears a golden crown, and carries a sharp sickle as the executor of righteous judgment on the earth. By Him "the harvest of the earth is reaped."
The Vintage. "And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and he cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe. And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great wine-press of the wrath of God. And the wine-press was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the wine-press, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs." (vv. 17-20.)
There are two kinds of judgment spoken of by the prophets and our Lord — the one a judicial process discriminating between the wicked and the good; the other a terrible outpouring of wrath against open and avowed enemies. The nations summoned before the throne of glory where the Son of man sits, and divided into two companies on the right hand and on the left, are dealt with in the former way. The armies of the beast and the false prophet of the Assyrian and of Gog, are dealt with in the latter. These are the two sorts of judgment foreshadowed in these two visions. The figure of the harvest suggests the judicial inquiry, the separation of the wheat from the hires, and the binding up in separate bundles. The figure of the wine-press suggests the desolating and unsparing storm of divine indignation which shall devour His adversaries. The angel who bids the harvest commence comes out of the temple, a fit place from which to demand a holy, discriminating judgment. But the angel in the vintage scene comes "out of the altar," the place of consuming judgment, and has "power over fire," the symbol of devouring wrath, in the discriminating judgment Christ appears as the Son of man, the character in which He will summon the Gentiles to His tribunal, and divide the sheep from the goats. In the second He appears only in His angelic character, as the Psalmist prays, "Let them be as chaff before the wind, and let the angel of Jehovah chase them." (Ps. 35:5.)
The passage in Joel clearly shows that the subject is the judgment of the Gentiles. The harvest judgment has, as we have seen, at least a part of its fulfilment in the scene described in Matthew 25, where the Gentiles are arraigned before Christ's tribunal and dealt with according to their treatment of the faithful Jews. The vintage judgment takes place outside "the city," and as no other city has yet been named, this can only be Jerusalem, where the Lord's open and avowed enemies are gathered in hostility to His chosen people. The wine-press is trodden there, and blood flows for a "space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs" — a vivid and awful picture of the wholesale destruction of the armies assembled against Jerusalem, through the two hundred miles, or whole length, of the Holy Land. In both cases it is a judgment of the Gentiles, the enemies of Jerusalem and of God's chosen people, preparatory to the establishment of the Messianic reign.
Revelation 15, 16.
The last chapter was parenthetic. After showing man's ways on the earth, God turns aside, as it were, to let us know His own purposes before they are carried into execution. He takes us forward in spirit therefore to see what will be the blessed lot of those saints who escape with life from the persecutions of the beast. Then, after asserting His own claims to worship as Creator and Judge, He announces the doom about to fall upon Babylon and upon the followers of the beast, and at the same time promises a special blessing to those who die for their faithfulness during this period of tribulation. Finally, He declares how He will deal, whether in discriminating or in unsparing judgment, with the Gentiles.
Having thus shown His general purposes, He resumes the thread of the narrative, dealing, first, with the closing series of preliminary judgments which precede the coming of the Son of man; then, in fuller detail, with the overthrow of Babylon; and lastly, with the destruction of the beast and false prophet when Christ actually appears. But there is another subject, dear to the Lord's heart, with which He also deals. The blessedness of the "dead which die in the Lord" was one of the themes named in the previous chapter; and after just referring to the last plagues, before their dreadful character is detailed, another welcome break in the gathering cloud of judgment discloses a blessed vision of these victorious ones in the presence of God.
The narrative begins — "And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God." (Rev. 16:1.) We see, therefore, that we are drawing to the close of these preliminary judgments; but having furnished this landmark to show where we are, the Spirit now leads no aside to contemplate another scene.
The Blessed Dead in Heaven.
"And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire, and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image [and over his mark], and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of [not saints, but] the nations. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations [or all the nations] shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest." This is not a vision of earthly blessedness, for "the sea of glass like unto crystal" is, as we learn from the fourth chapter, before the throne in heaven. On earth there is always need of cleansing, and there we have the brazen sea filled with water; but in heaven there is fixed, perfect purity which nothing can defile. Here it is mingled with fire, indicating probably the fiery trials through which these conquerors had passed. The purity they have now attained has been got through the fire in which they have been tried as gold.
These conquerors have "gotten the victory over the beast." What a change! Looked at from man's side, the beast had made war with them, "and overcome them." Looked at from God's side, they have "gotten the victory over the beast." On earth the cry is, "Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?" In heaven the song is, "Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name?" God is always victorious in the end, and so are those who trust Him. These saints, who died rather than worship the beast and his image, are now singing praises in the presence of God, while those who worship the beast "shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb."
The victors "sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb." The song of Moses is the triumphant chant raised on the shores of the Red Sea, when Israel, delivered from the oppression of Egypt, had been brought safely through the deep waters, and beheld the waves closing over the pursuing host. So had these saints been delivered from this scene of persecution, brought through death, and now looked back on the judgment of their foes. The song of the Lamb is the song, not of redemption, but of the triumphs which belong to Christ as the meek and lowly One, now exalted in the earth. God is addressed by His Old Testament name, Lord God Almighty. These saints say nothing about being made kings and priests, or about reigning over the earth. It is the reign of Jehovah, the Almighty, as King over "the nations," or Gentiles, and His righteous judgments in the earth, that fill their hearts with joy. The whole scene is Jewish and millennial in character. They rejoice that the Gentiles come and worship before God, not through gradual conversion, but because His "judgments are made manifest." "For when Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." (Isa. 26:9.)
The Temple in Heaven.
Having refreshed our eyes, as it were, with this glimpse of heavenly light, we return now to the midnight darkness in which the world is still wrapped. The scene, indeed, is yet in heaven, but derives its colour from the earth, for whose judgment preparation is being made. "And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened and the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles. And one of the four living creatures gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from His power; and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled."
Again "the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven" is the place from which God acts. This is the place in which the ark of God's covenant with Israel was lately seen, the place from which the judgment of the Gentiles was lately demanded. This shows, though figuratively, what is in God's thoughts; that in the plagues He is now about to pour forth on the earth, He is acting in view of His relationship with Israel, the nation with which His covenant is established. Now, though the temple is there, it is filled with smoke. So had Isaiah seen the earthly temple, when the Lord came to announce the desolation of Israel. (Isa. 6:4.) So had God shown Himself to His people, at the giving of the law, when "mount Sinai was altogether in a smoke, because Jehovah descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly." (Ex. 19:18.) God, dealing with man in righteous judgment is necessarily "a consuming fire." The world has rejected grace, and refused the call to repentance; and now God is about to vindicate His righteousness. The temple in heaven is opened, but not for intercession. It is filled with the smoke of that consuming fire which God will now show Himself to be, and no man can enter until His righteous indignation has been poured forth. Seven ministers of His judgments, clothed in white linen, the garb of spotless purity, and girt with the golden girdles of divine righteousness, carry forth the full vials of His wrath. It is "the wrath of God who lives for ever and ever," of Jehovah, the God of Israel, that is here stored up. One of the living creatures, the executors of His providential judgments, hands the vials to the seven angels.
General Character of the Vial Judgments.
"And I heard a great voice [out of the temple] saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth." Before examining the vials in detail, it may be well to make a few remarks about their general character. The number here, as in the seals and trumpets, is seven. But while the trumpet judgments are the development of the seventh seal, the vials are not a development of the seventh trumpet. The seventh trumpet brings us down to Christ's coming in power and glory, and its development, therefore, is not given in detail until other events, also preceding this great consummation, have been recorded. The vial series runs, so to speak, to the same terminus, being "the seven last plagues." They are, therefore, in whole or in part, contemporaneous with the trumpet judgments. The stress which is laid, however, on their final character, as filling up the wrath of God, suggests that though terminating at the same time as the trumpets, they begin later, and occupy, therefore, a shorter period.
Comparing the vials with the trumpets, there is a singular parallelism. The first trumpet judgment affects the earth; so does the first vial. The second trumpet affects the sea; so does the second vial. The third trumpet affects the rivers and fountains; so does the third vial. The fourth trumpet affects the heavenly bodies; so does the fourth vial. The fifth trumpet brings darkness and torment without death; so does the fifth vial. The sixth trumpet announces invasion from the Euphrates; so does the sixth vial. The seventh trumpet ushers in the reign of Christ; so does the seventh vial. No doubt there are great differences, and as a general rule the vial judgments are severer and more extensive than those under the trumpets. Still the general parallelism, coupled with the shorter duration of the vial judgments, seems to indicate that towards the close the trumpet series become aggravated in character, plagues of the same nature being either increased in intensity or widened in area. Such would seem to be the general character of these vial judgments.
"And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image." Here, as in the first trumpet, the scene affected is the earth, the region of ordered government. Whether the plague be literally or figuratively understood, it obviously refers to some painful and humiliating visitation on those who had worshipped the beast and owned themselves his vassals. There is no difficulty in understanding the plague literally. Similar visitations had marked God's displeasure with. the Egyptians and with the Philistines; for God will abase the proud, and pour contempt on the lofty. But from the general symbolic character of the book, one would rather conclude, that while in this and other cases the plagues of Egypt furnish the figures, the judgments here named are to be less literally understood. It is so undoubtedly in the plagues that follow, and we may, therefore, infer that in this instance also the sore is rather in mind and circumstances than an actual bodily infliction, some deep, fretting trouble falling or the worshippers of the beast and his image. God has various judgments to inflict. The revival of idolatry is one sin to be judged, and its votaries are, therefore, sorely visited. This is the special object of the first plague.
"And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea." Here, as before, the sea stands for the great mass of the peoples; for God's judgments are not confined to the beast and his followers. Throughout its whole surface the world is reddened with war and bloodshed, signified in the ghastly picture of the sea becoming like the blood of a dead man, and all its living creatures being destroyed. Such is the import of the second plague.
"And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood" (v. 4) Here, as in the third trumpet, the rivers and fountains represent the springs and sources of human refreshment. Under the trumpet these were corrupted and embittered over a third part of the earth. Under these severer visitations they are not only corrupted, but turned to death, becoming blood, and that not only over a third part of the globe, but generally. The voice of intelligent creation acquiesces in the righteousness of this judgment. "And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous [O Lord], which art, and wast, and shalt be [or "which art, and wast holy"], because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. And I heard [another out of] the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments" (vv. 5-7) Though no special portion of the world is signified, it seems that this judgment is aimed chiefly at those who have persecuted the prophets and saints. The voice from the altar is most suggestive; for beneath that altar were seen in a former vision "the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held." Now this altar, where they had presented their bodies as a sacrifice to God, having once witnessed their sufferings, rejoices in the righteous retribution which overtakes their persecutors.
(Verses 8, 9.)
"And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which has power over these plagues: and they repented not to give Him glory." As the sun represents supreme authority, this plague indicates the pressure of intense tyranny — the nations groaning beneath the fierce rays of oppressive power exercised by the ruler of this period. In the fourth trumpet the sun is not intensified in heat, but partially darkened. From this one may perhaps gather that the anarchy and confusion implied in the trumpet judgment ends in a period of intense oppression and suffering, just as, for example, the total subversion of all authority in the French Revolution culminated in the blood-thirsty tyranny of the reign of terror. But the most solemn feature of the whole scene is that man, though recognizing God as the author of these plagues, is only hardened in rebellion against Him. Instead of repenting and turning to Him, he breaks out in still more awful blasphemy against his name.
(Verses 10, 11.)
"And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat [throne] of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds." Such is man when left to himself with Satan for his guide. Here we see the fabric he has reared for himself under the direction of the God of this world. Science and art, civilization and culture, all that, according to modern thought, humanizes, refines, and elevates our race — freedom, with all its benefits, leaving man to work out his own destiny — all this brought to bear on his circumstances; and what is the result? In Western Europe, the chosen home of civilization, liberty, enlightenment, and progress, the result is the kingdom of the beast, the focus of tyranny, darkness, misery, and blasphemy. And why? Because man has left God out of account. "God is not in all his thoughts." Independence of God was the cause of his fall, the beginning of all his ruin and wretchedness. Independence of God will culminate in all the miseries of this disastrous time. The darkness here is doubtless moral, or rather spiritual; men groping in their blindness for some refuge from their gnawing misery, and yet so deluded by Satan that instead of turning to the only Deliverer, they blaspheme His name, and persist in the sins which have provoked His judgments. But alas! a still worse madness remains to be brought out.
"And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the East might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. (Behold, I come as a thief; blessed is he that watches and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.) And he [or "they"] gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon." We need not understand this, any more than the previous judgments, literally. The Euphrates was the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire. The drying up of its waters, then, to make a way for the kings of the East is a natural figure for the breaking down of that boundary-line of the revived empire under the beast.
The kings of the east probably signify a confederacy of eastern powers under the king who takes the place of the ancient Assyrian. In opposition to Egypt their leader is styled the king of the north. In opposition to the revived Roman Empire, the confederates are styled "the kings of the east." We have seen that such a power will be arrayed against Jerusalem, which seeks aid in the disastrous alliance with the beast, the head of the revived Roman Empire. It is by God's counsel that all the nations are thus gathered "against Jerusalem to battle," but God makes the dragon and men's evil passions to work out his own will. Just as He bade the lying spirit go and lure Ahab to his fall, just as He sends men in this dreadful time "strong delusion that they should believe a lie," so here He uses the unclean spirits out of the mouth of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, to draw together this assemblage of powers, "the clusters of the vine of the earth," to be trodden in the wine-press of His righteous indignation. Doubtless to men's eyes the war will be declared with the usual exchange of diplomatic dispatches, and the usual protests of disinterested intentions. But the Spirit of God unmasks the true motives at work, and shows that the real agents in this great gathering are demons, diabolic counsels, from the heart of Satan and his wicked instruments. By these the war is stirred up, and God's purpose accomplished. The kings of the east gather their forces, and invade the frontier of the beast's dominions. The beast, in concert with the kings of the west, also gathers his forces, and marches to the fatal field of Armageddon.
Whatever doubt there may be as to the exact meaning of this word, there is none as to the fact that it refers in some way or other to the valley of Megiddo. Here it was that the most formidable Gentile oppressors were overthrown, when God arose for the deliverance of His people. Here it was that "the kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money. They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera." (Judges 5:19-20.) It is obvious how admirable a type this furnishes of the great battle yet to come, when Christ shall descend from heaven for the deliverance of His people, the destruction of His enemies, and the establishment of His glorious rule. We learn elsewhere, that the Gentile will be gathered in the Holy Land, but the name Armageddon probably refers less to the place than to the character of their overthrow, as typified in the great battle "by the waters of Megiddo."
Thus the world's misery seems to culminate. Who can fathom the distress of the saints, or the groans that ascend — "How long?" But the day of deliverance is at hand. Little do the gathering forces imagine that instead of encountering each other, they will meet the One whose claims they have despised, whose saints they have persecuted, whose name they have blasphemed; that He is coming to take the crown "whose right it is;" that the land they have destined for their spoil God has destined for their sepulchre. Little do the beast and his still more wicked coadjutor dream that from that field of slaughter to which they are hastening they will be carried captives, and hurled without death into the eternal torments of the lake of fire. Little do the groaning saints, hid among the mountains and caves, dare to hope that now at last they may lift up their heads, for their redemption draws nigh. How cheering, then, yet how solemn, drop the words, like a momentary lull an the wildest fury of the storm, "Behold, I come as a thief" What a fearful surprise for "the inhabiters of the earth," who still, amidst all the convulsions, pursue their own way, and dream of a good time yet before them! What a joyful surprise for the suffering saints, thus to behold their Deliverer appearing in the moment of their deepest gloom! Well may He warn them to be on the watch, and to keep their garments that they be not found naked.
"And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple [of heaven] from the throne, saying, It is done. And there were Voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of us wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great."
Here, then, the preliminary judgments come to an end. The vial is poured out into the air, the scene of Satan's authority; for he is "the prince of the power of the air." Mighty results follow. God, speaking from the throne out of the temple in which the ark of the covenant is placed, declares that the work is done. What work? The work towards which all God's schemes of earthly government have been directed, the work of which the ark of the covenant was a constant memorial, the work of setting his King upon His holy hill of Zion, and making Jerusalem a joy and a rejoicing to the whole earth. The time for this is now come, and the voices, and thunders, and lightnings announce the judgments by which it is to be accomplished. An earthquake of unexampled violence, or an unprecedented crash of all earthly power, ensues. "The great city is divided into three parts" In the Revelation "the holy city" means Jerusalem; "the great city," Rome. It is elsewhere called "that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth." (Rev. 17:18.) The city is here used for the whole Roman dominion, which is split into three parts. Besides this, the cities of the nations fall, there is a general overturning, the crashing up of the gold, and the silver, and the brass, and the iron, and the clay, beneath the weight of the stone which falls upon them and grinds them to powder. Great Babylon comes in remembrance, that corrupt religious system which survives the removal of the true Church. It, too, must now drink the cup of judgment whose contents are beheld in the next chapters. All places of security and strength, all islands and mountains, disappear, and a terrible scourge, likened to a storm of gigantic hailstones, sweeps away all man's schemes and systems from the earth. But all this hurricane of judgment cannot bow the stubborn rebellion and hatred of man's heart towards God, which again rise in fresh blasphemy against His name and ways.
The Judgment of Babylon.
Revelation 17:1 to 19:4.
The last plague showed a shaking of all political and religious systems, in which the fall of Babylon held a foremost place. Babylon means confusion; for at Babel man made his first organized attempt to act in independence of God, and therefore God confounded it. It afterwards became the head of the Gentile powers which desolated Jerusalem, and consequently is often spoken of as representing the whole. The prophets also frequently denounce it in strong language on account of its shameless idolatry. The ideas therefore suggested by Babylon, whether civil or religions, are all in antagonism to God's city. It began in independence of God; it continued as the oppressor of God's people; it fell while using the vessels of God's temple to do honour to its own idols.
The city of Babylon has long been a ruinous heap, where the "wild beasts of the desert" couch, and the "houses are full of doleful creatures." But the system which Babylon represents still survives. Politically, it is independence of God, as seen in the beast; religiously, it is idolatry, as seen in the woman. Both agree in hatred and persecution of God's people. The civil and religious aspects are often, as in Babylon itself, twined together, so that the threads cannot always be unravelled, but all the evil elements are united in the mystical Babylon of the Revelation. In every point of view it is ripe for judgment.
The Church may be looked at in its relationship either with Christ or with the world. In the former view no figure can be more exquisitely appropriate than that of the bride or wife. In the latter view no figure can be more expressive than that of some striking object in which skill and beauty are displayed such as a magnificent temple or city. Thus the Church is presented by John in this book under the two symbols of the Lamb's wife, and the "great city, the holy Jerusalem." On the other hand the counterfeit church, the apostate body which has professed to be the bride of Christ is presented under two corresponding figures — as the harlot or false wife in contrast with the true, and as the unholy city in contrast with the holy, the city of earth in contrast with the city "descending out of heaven," man's city in contrast with God's city, the city of the beast's throne in contrast with the city of the Lamb's throne. These two aspects are successively placed before us in the two chapters we are now considering.
Babylon, The Mother of Harlots
"And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sits upon many waters: with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication." (vv. 1, 2.) The seven angels had the last plagues, one of which was in part directed against Babylon. It is by one of these angels therefore that John is taken to witness her judgment. He styles her "the great whore that sits upon many waters." Now the first part of this figure is constantly used in Scripture as to those who forsake God for idolatry. In this sense it is repeatedly applied to Jerusalem and the Jews. As to the rest of the figure, we afterwards read that "the waters which thou sawest, where the whore sits, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." (v. 15.)
"The great whore that sits upon many waters" means therefore some system of idolatry which has spread over vast regions and many nations. It is not, like the idolatry of the antichrist, a national apostacy, but has a far wider area. Again, she commits fornication with the kings of the earth. Instead of retaining her purity she lends herself to the corrupt passions of the world's sovereigns, and ensnares the people with her intoxicating charms, making them "drunk with the wine of her fornication."
"So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns." (v. 3.) Little of a wilderness as the world might seem to the enchantress herself or her ensnared votaries, to one who was in the Spirit her dwelling place was a wilderness indeed. "The vine of the earth" might flourish there, but fruit for God could not grow in such soil. To the anointed eye there is a moral and spiritual desert encircling far and wide this "mother of harlots." In this waste land she sits "upon a scarlet-coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns." This admits of no mistake. The scarlet or imperial colour is the only feature added to the description from which we have already identified the beast with the head of the Roman Empire. This false system of religion, so widely spread over the earth, ministering by her corruptions to the kings, and seducing by her intoxicating charms the peoples of the world, rests upon that Roman Empire whose revival calls forth universal astonishment.
"And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication." (v. 4.) Not only does she lean on the imperial power for support, but she clothes herself in imperial garments (purple and scarlet) adorning herself with all sorts of worldly splendour, and holding even her defilements and abominations in a golden cup.
"And upon her forehead was a name written, mystery, babylon the great, the mother of [the] harlots and abominations of the earth." (v. 5.) She has not, like the beast, the names of "blasphemy," but she has the name of "mystery." Now a mystery in Scripture means a secret not before revealed. There is therefore here a secret; but it is not the "mystery of iniquity" spoken of by Paul. No doubt there is a considerable likeness; but the man spoken of by Paul is clearly a person, while the woman named here is clearly a system. That is destroyed by Christ's coming in judgment; this is destroyed by the ten kings and the beast before Christ's coming in judgment. The "man of sin" named by Paul answers closely to the false Christ of the Revelation, but differs essentially from the woman on the scarlet beast.
The mystery here, then, is not "the mystery of iniquity," but the strange secret that the Church should become thus hopelessly corrupt, a fact winch in the next verse fills John with astonishment. "Babylon the great" shows her to be the moral representative of the corruption, idolatry, and enmity of God's people which formerly characterized the Chaldean monarchy. She is also called "the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth;" for not merely is she an idolatrous system herself, but she has given birth to other idolatrous systems scattered over the world.
And with Babylon's idolatry she inherits also her oppression of God's people, though here it is not Jews, but Christians, that she persecutes. "And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration." (v. 6.) In persecuting the saints it resembles the false Christ, but this fills John with astonishment. Now the apostacy of the Jews under the antichrist had been foretold by Daniel and other prophets, so that John could feel no surprise at this. But here is a new thing, another apostacy, which overwhelms him with amazement. What could so astound him as such a corruption of Christianity itself? And what, apart from the work of the antichrist, is there to be found at all resembling this description save that so-called church, which, while bearing the name of Christ, has drawn her strength and her resources from Rome, has decked herself out in imperial raiment, has pandered by her corruptions to the kings of the world, has dazed the nations with her meretricious splendour, has darkened heaven with the smoke of her persecuting fires, and has set up idolatry side by side with the worship of God?
"And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and ten horns. The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names are not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and shall be present [for this is the true reading]. And here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sits, And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he comes, he must continue a short space. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goes into perdition." (vv. 7-11.)
In this passage the seven heads receive a double explanation. First they are said to be seven kings or forms of government. At this we have already looked. Secondly, they are interpreted as meaning seven mountains. Now the seven-hilled city is everywhere recognized as Rome. This identifies the beast with the Roman Empire. But they are also the "seven mountains on which the woman sits." It is not therefore a mere general connection between the empire and this religious apostacy that is here indicated, but a local connection between the religion and the city. The woman, or the system which the woman represents, has her seat in Rome. As "the mother of harlots," she may have children walking in her own evil ways, not directly connected with Rome. The principles of idolatry, and of worldly traffic unbecoming the bride of Christ, have eaten into a large portion of Christendom that is not professedly Romanist. But the harlot herself is the religious corruption that has its seat in the seven-hilled city.
Is it, then, Romanism in the past and present or Romanism in the future, that is here portrayed? The scene itself is, of course, future, and shows her in connection with the revived Roman Empire represented by the beast. But much of the description given is true of the past and present, belonging to the system itself. She is judged for her general character and career, her worldliness, her idolatry, her intoxication of the senses, and her persecution of God's people. She has had time given her to repent, and has not repented. Her last state is worse than her first; for the arm of flesh on which she now seeks to stay herself is the blasphemous tool of Satan, who at that time rules the revived Roman Empire. And now the time is come that she is to be cast "into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds." (Rev. 2:22.) There is grace for individuals connected with her if they repent, but none for the system itself, which has refused repentance.
The vision now quits the woman for a time, to give further information about the beast and the ten horns. "And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings; and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful." (vv. 12-14.) Daniel shows that the Roman Empire is divided into ten kingdoms — "the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise." (Dan. 7:24.) After this another little horn, the same as the beast in the Revelation, comes up, subduing three kingdoms, and exercising the whole power of the empire, which is judged on account of his blasphemy; "because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast [the Roman Empire] was slain." (Dan. 7:11.)
This throws light on the Revelation. Some great power springs up out of the ten kingdoms into which the Roman Empire is divided, conquering three, and gaining ascendancy over the rest. This is the beast of the Revelation. A confederation is formed of status temporarily leagued under this powerful prince. There was something like this when several states acknowledged the lead and aided in the wars of the first Napoleon. In these days of rapid change there is nothing improbable in such a combination. These ten sovereigns "receive power as kings one hour with the beast." They may not be new sovereigns; the authority they receive may only refer to the present league. Thus it is said that power was given to the beast "to continue forty and two months;" but he reigned before this; for he made a covenant for seven years, of which the "forty and two months" was only the latter half. We need not therefore understand that these kings became kings at this time; but they have power given at this time for a special object, a very brief term, only "for one hour," but long enough to accomplish their dreadful purpose of making war with the Lamb. His victory, and the character of his followers, here just named, is more fully recorded afterwards. But before starting to their doom the beast and the ten kings have another object to accomplish.
The woman has been seated on the scarlet-coloured beast. She had been willing to commit fornication with the kings of the earth, to prostitute the religious power she wielded to pursue worldly ends, and advance the schemes of worldly sovereigns. She was willing to do this for the beast, even when acting under Satan's inspiration. But a new religion has now sprung up, the worship of a man, and all trace of Christianity must be obliterated. These sovereigns, therefore, now turn their hatred against the woman, who, though frightfully perverting, has still been called by the name of Christ. Vast as her influence has been, and perhaps still is, over the peoples, they resolve on her utter destruction. "And he says unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sits, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. And the ten horns which thou sawest and the beast [not "upon" the beast], these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. For God has put in their hearts to fulfil His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth." (vv. 15-18.)
This is all clear enough, and most instructive. God can use any instruments He will to carry out His purposes. Satan's malice only drives the remnant of God's people into the wilderness, where He meets them and speaks comfortably unto them, while it gathers the armies of the world to the place where He designs to execute judgment upon them. The Assyrian of old, and the beast and ten kings in this chapter, though hating and blaspheming God, are just his tools, with no knowledge or will of their own, to accomplish His unfailing designs. He has purposed to destroy the harlot, and these wicked kings, though leagued together to "make war with the Lamb," are the blind instruments He uses. Vanity of vanities! They rebel against His authority, deny His truth, blaspheme His name, combine against His purposes, and yet He has put in their hearts to fulfil His will."
The federal character which this revived Roman Empire will take is clearly shown in this verse. The ten kings "agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast" for a specific object and season. It is not only the beast compelling them to follow his command, but it is a voluntary act on their part: "the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed." This fierce outbreak of the infidel against the corrupt ecclesiastical power is what we see foreshadowed in the familiar events of the great French Revolution, where the so-called church was the special mark for popular hatred and bloody persecution. This was but a presage of the more terrible retribution which will presently be exacted, when the ten horns and the beast "shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire."
"And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth." Popular language has undesignedly confirmed this blending of the city and the system. We speak of persons going over to the Greek Church, or the English Church, not of their going over to Greece or England, but to say that anybody has gone over to Rome means that he has joined the Roman Catholic Church. The language of the world thus undesignedly coincides with the language of Scripture in identifying "the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth" with the religious system of which it is the seat.
This chapter really presents no more difficulty than always attaches to symbolic writing. But the distinction between Babylon and the Beast is so important, and so often overlooked, that we may add a few words on the subject. Three earthly powers, closely related, but quite different are seen in the Revelation.
First, there is the Roman power, under its last chief, the beast with seven heads and ten horns. He is a great prince, presiding over a confederacy of ten kings, and rules, either as sovereign, or by his ascendancy in the counsels of the league, over the territory, or at least the Western territory, of the ancient Roman Empire. His power, during the last three and a half years of his reign, is directly received from Satan, and is used to carry out Satan's persecution of the godly remnant of the Jews.
Second, the false Christ, or antichrist, is a pretender to divine character and worship — outwardly like a lamb, but with the voice of a dragon. He has miraculous powers, enters into a league with the head of the Roman Empire, which is described as "a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell;" and finally, when the Roman prince, under Satanic inspiration, puts down all Jewish rites, and exalts himself as an object of worship, the false Christ aids his schemes, sets up his image, which he miraculously endows with breath, and persecutes with relentless cruelty all who refuse to bow down to this new idol. This is the religious apostacy of the Jews.
Third, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots, has not her seat at Jerusalem, but at Rome; is not a Jewish, but a Christian apostacy. True, all religious apostacies have some resemblance, and as both are connected with the Roman Empire, it is not strange that they are often confounded, especially where the Scripture truth concerning the restoration of Israel is not understood, and all prophecy has to be violently crushed into the straitened confines of the history of the Church. But while having many features alike, there are clear marks of distinction. In Revelation 12 and 13 the Spirit is occupied with Israel, and the Roman power is looked at only in this relationship. Here, therefore, its connection with the antichrist is brought out. But in Revelation 17 it is looked at in its relationship with the harlot. Here, therefore, the league of the ten kings, and the attitude assumed towards the great religious system of the Roman Empire, are the prominent questions. The difference between the two religious apostacies, the Jewish and the Christian, is thus clear; and what makes it still more manifest is the different judgments which they undergo. The harlot is destroyed by the beast and his confederates; the antichrist perishes with the beast and his confederates. If then, Babylon be the Church of Rome, the antichrist cannot be the Church of Rome also. The confusion of the two involves even simple prophecies in perplexity; their distinction makes even prophecies which have caused perplexity perfectly simple.
That Great City Babylon.
(Rev. 18:1 to 19:4.)
We have now seen God's judgment of Babylon as the harlot, the one who falsely took the place of the Lamb's wife. This chapter shows us its judgment as a city, or religious system in the world. Here we learn man's thoughts about it, and see how different the feelings created by its desolation in earth and in heaven.
"And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies." (Rev. 18:1-3.) There is a close correspondence here with the language of Isaiah. No doubt the prophet is foretelling the literal destruction of the Chaldean metropolis, whereas here it is figuratively applied, not to the city, but to the Church of Rome. Like the great city of old, the grandeur and glory of this mighty religious system have been overthrown. She, who drugged the nations with her intoxicating draughts, who flaunted as the paramour of earthly sovereigns, whose luxury and splendour enriched the merchants of the world, is now left empty and desolate, like a ruined city in whose tenantless abode all unclean creatures make their dwelling place. She who, in her religious arrogance, had claimed to be the habitation of the Holy Ghost, is now become "the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit."
In this corrupt system, indeed, there are, and always have been, true children of God; for His grace can overleap all barriers. But God calls them to come out of it, warning them of its true character and coming judgment. "And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities." (vv. 4, 5.) How contrary God's thoughts are to the sadly low thoughts of many of His people. To man it often seems a light thing whether he is connected with evil or not, provided he is personally safe. But how dishonouring are such thoughts to God! Here the people called to quit this evil system are God's people, as Lot was in Sodom, and God will never let His own perish. But how different the fate of Lot — saved "so as by fire" and with loss of everything — from that of Abraham, beholding the judgment from the heights of Hebron. Such is the difference between those who walk in separation from evil, and those who go on contentedly with it because they are assured of their own salvation. Like Sodom, the sins of this corrupt system have ascended up to heaven, and God's people are called, like Lot to save themselves by coming out of it.
The kings leagued against the Lamb are the instruments by which the false church is stripped of its glory and riches, and rendered desolate; but in this they are ignorantly carrying out God's purposes, as Nebuchadnezzar of old. So the voice from heaven bids them "reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she has filled fill to her double. How much she has glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she says in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine, and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judges her" (vv. 6-8.) Rome, though committing fornication with the kings of the earth, has often shown her insolence and spiritual pride in trampling upon them. Perhaps this is what is alluded to when they are told, "Reward her even as she rewarded you," though more probably it is only a general exhortation to repay her according to her wickedness and cruelty. She had exalted herself and lived for the world instead of Christ and now sorrow and torment are her lot. She had filled her cup with the filthiness of her fornications, and now the cup of judgment is to be filled to her double. She had prided herself in her power and glory, instead of waiting for her absent Lord, and now desolation comes upon her — she is destroyed as by fire, for the God whom she has despised is a mighty God, and will not be mocked.
Such are the voices from heaven; but man's thoughts are very different. Two classes of persons mourn over her — "the kings of the earth," who have been aided by her power, and "the merchants of the earth," who have grown rich out of her luxuries. "And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city for in one hour is thy judgment come." (vv. 9, 10.) Though appalled by the violence of her overthrow, and fearing to stand up for her defence, yet the crowned heads generally lament the fall of a power which has usually sought its own aggrandisement by ministering to the aggrandisement of sovereigns. A corrupt alliance with the secular power, which she upheld as a tool of her own ambition, has always been a favourite policy of the Roman See. The sovereigns of the world are therefore, for the most part, distressed at her overthrow.
But Rome has not only woven the meshes of her net round the great and powerful. Her worldliness, her splendour, and her pomp have made her dear to those who minister to luxury and ostentation. The wife of an absent Christ should have been clothed in widow's weeds, but she had sat as a queen, and no widow, arraying herself in purple and scarlet, and bedizened with gold, and precious stones, and pearls. No wonder "the merchants of the earth" bewail her fall. "And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buys their merchandise any more: the merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyme wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, and cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men [or "bodies and souls of men "]. And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all. The merchants of these things, winch were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, and saying, Alas, alas that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls! For in one hour so great riches is come to nought." (vv. 11-17.)
The Church was called to be separate from the world, and to wait for the Lord. "Our conversation," says Paul, "is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ." But it soon left this waiting attitude, and said in its heart, "My Lord delays his coming." Presently, as we see in the sketch of ecclesiastical history furnished by the seven churches, it settled down in the world, "where Satan's seat is." The next step is soon made. Having ceased to be a widow, she began to be a queen. Abandoning her proper heavenly hope, she appropriated the earthly hopes of the Jews, which were more pleasing to her worldly tastes. Heedless of the apostle's warning, she forgot that, if unfaithful, she would be cut off. Her widowed character was dropped, and the splendour and glory promised to Israel, but utterly unsuited to the Church, were claimed and appropriated for herself. She became, not only a great power in the world, but a power before which all others must bow. True, her pretensions aroused resistance, and the monarchs who crouched before her at one moment would defy her at another. But such were her claims, claims she has never abated, while her splendour and luxury exceeded all limits. For this she is now visited. Suddenly, as by an unexpected squall, when apparently sailing along in perfect safety, she is plunged a wreck beneath the waves. The very power she has leaned upon turns with fury against her, and becomes her destroyer. "In one hour so great riches is come to nought."
Man loves what glorifies and enriches himself. The fail of this system is regarded by him without care for its moral character or the dishonour it has done to God. Absorbed in his on a interests, God is not in all his thoughts. "And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off, and cried, when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city! And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea, by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate." (vv. 17-19.) It is terrible to see what man may become without God. But, perhaps, the most hideous spectacle of all is man's self-exaltation in the things of God, the Church, wrested, as it were, from Christ, and made the ladder to human selfishness and aggrandisement. There is awful significance in the words "souls of men," closing the list of her merchandise. The power of the priesthood has been horribly abused in other religions; but who could have dreamed of a deliberate bartering of souls for money carried on by that which professes to be the spotless bride of Christ? Who can wonder that God's judgments, long suspended, should at length fall, with sudden and crushing destruction, on such a system?
No wonder there is joy in heaven. "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets [or ye saints, and apostles, and prophets], for God has avenged you on her." (v. 20.) It may seem strange that a system which sprung up long after the apostles' days should be thus spoken of. No doubt, like Jerusalem of old, it "built the tombs of the prophets and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous," and said, "If we had been in the days of our fathers we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets." But to this very same Jerusalem it was said, "Behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes, and some of them ye shall kill and crucify, and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of the righteous Abel." (Matt. 23:29-35.) In like manner it is said of Babylon, "In her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth." (Rev. 18:24.)
The close moral connection between the head of the Gentile monarchies and the mystical Babylon of the Revelation is further shown by the resemblance of the figures describing their overthrow. Jeremiah, binding up his prophecy against Babylon with a stone, cast it into the Euphrates, saying, "Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her." (Jer. 51:63-64.) So, in the chapter before us, we read, "And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all." (v. 21.)
Instead of a city full of worldly delight and activity, she is to be like a city utterly forsaken, a picture of desolation and misery. "And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee; and the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived. And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth." (vv. 22-24.) Three charges are thus brought against this system. The Church was set here to live for heaven, but Rome has sought worldly objects worldly wealth, worldly power, worldly glory — her merchants have been "the great men of the earth." The Church was set here to be "the pillar and ground of the truth," but Rome has corrupted the truth "By thy sorceries were all nations deceived." The Church was set here to endure persecution, if needs be, on Christ's behalf; but Rome has been the persecutor of God's people — "In her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth."
Angels and voices from heaven have declared the joy there felt at the destruction of Babylon. We now behold the joy of the heavenly host in the presence of God. "And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God [or "the salvation, the glory, and the power of our God"]: for true and righteous are His judgments: for he has judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and has avenged the blood of His servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever." (Rev. 19:1-3.) Nothing can more solemnly mark God's abhorrence of counterfeits in the things of Christ than this reiterated joy over the judgment of the corrupt system which usurps the name, while belying the character, of the Lamb's wife. While much people on earth, mindful only of their own fancied interests, are bewailing her fall, "much people in heaven," mindful of Christ's glory, are giving praise to God for avenging the blood of His servants and judging the corrupter of the world.
"Again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever." To man, and religious man, there is something imposing in a system which can boast of antiquity so venerable, architecture so splendid, music so enchanting, organization so perfect, power so tremendous, pretensions so overwhelming. But all this is worthless in God's sight. It is the wine with which she makes the nations drunk; but it is the product of "the vine of the earth," intoxicating to the senses, and having nothing of the Spirit of God. Such earthly delights are unsuited to the bride of an absent Christ, and are consistent with the bitterest hatred and cruelest persecution of the servants of God. All therefore will be consumed in judgment — "Her smoke rose up for ever and ever."
"And the four and twenty elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia." (v. 4.) All heaven has but one song, but one note, as to the downfall of this corrupt system. True, judgment is God's strange work, but it is needful to clear the ground for blessing, and we shall see shortly for what a mighty and blessed event this judgment prepares the way. The four and twenty elders who join in this thanksgiving are here named for the last time. They are, as we have seen, a company representing the redeemed, who have been raised or caught up when Christ came for His saints, and are, now for ever with the Lord. They add their Alleluia to the chorus of joy at the judgment of the harlot, and then as a company vanish out of sight. The reason for this will appear as we look at the new scenes now about to open before us.