Revelation 4 - 11.
We are now come to the strictly prophetic part of the book of Revelation. The seven churches formed together what the Holy Ghost calls "the things which are." And the Son of man was seen judging the house of God on earth, represented by the Asiatic churches. They existed in the time of St. John; and in a mystic sort at least, they have an existence continuous, and to a certain extent successive, as long as there is any testimony rendered by the professing body on the earth. If the literal application is past, the protracted representative bearing still goes on. In Revelation 1:19 we were told that, besides "the things which thou hast seen" and "the things which are," there is a third division — "the things which shall be hereafter." The word "hereafter" is vague, whereas the sense intended appears to be precise: it should be read "the things which shall be after these," meaning what is to follow after the church has come to an end on the earth. Its present history closes here, though it will have a better existence in heaven, and it will reign over the earth too in the day of millennial glory. We then arrive at this wholly prophetical portion. Revelation 4 and 5 are a kind of preface to "the things which shall be after these." Their great object is to show us, not events occurring on the earth, but the attitude or aspect in which God appears, and the place of those who are nearest to Him, during the occurrence of these future events, or the crisis of the present age. I must here dwell a little on the first of these chapters.
"After these things I looked, and, behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice which I heard [was] as it were of a trumpet, talking with me;" etc. (ver. 1). The "first voice" here does not mean the first of the voices that were about to speak, as some have strangely thought, but the voice that John had already heard in Revelation 1 — the voice of Him who had been in the midst of the seven golden lamp-stands. It still addresses him like a trumpet, no longer from earth but from heaven. There was a door there, and the voice spake from thence, so that this portion of the book supposes the earth done with for the moment, and the scene lies above. It is not merely that saints render testimony on the earth, but the voice speaks from heaven, showing the things that should follow the church-condition on earth now concluded. "Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must happen after these things" John is said to be immediately in the Spirit (ver. 2); that is, by the Holy Ghost's power he was rapt and characterised, so as to enter into the new scenes he was now to behold.
"Behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat," etc. God is not named as such in this account, save as "He that sat upon the throne." John is about to show us what the aspect seemed of the One who sits upon the throne, while there is that in God which "no man hath seen or can see. This is a representation, in a symbolical way, of the glory of God. He may assume any appearance that pleases Him; but as far as He permitted it to be displayed here, it was what could be compared to these precious stones. In Revelation 21 the bride, the New Jerusalem, comes down "out of heaven from God, having the glory of God; her light [was] like a stone most precious, as a jasper stone," etc. It is quite evident that this cannot be the essential glory of God. It rather means, I think, that it was not a human but a divine glory. There is in God that which He can confer upon the creature, and there is that which is incommunicable. Here divine glory is meant in contrast with creature glory — not that which would derogate from His majesty, but be a reflection of it. Her light was like a jasper stone; the wall also was of jasper (verse 18), and the first foundation (verse 19).* The general appearance of the city was as it were of jasper. This a little answers, I think, to the view we have in Revelation 4 of what John enjoyed of the sight of Him that sat upon the throne. In Rom. 5:2 it is said, not only that we have access to the grace of God in which we stand, but that we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. That glory of Him who sat on the throne, as far as it could be viewed by the creature, was presented under the figure of jasper and sardius (verse 3); and when the church comes forth in the glory of God, her light will be jasper-like. That is, the thought of God's glory, not man's, is the thing conveyed to the mind. Even in the "eternal day," there will be no such change as God abandoning or lowering the dignity of His own proper Godhead; for there must always be an infinite difference between God and the most exalted of His creatures. Still, there is a resemblance between the glory of God as seen by man, and the church's glory by and by. And this answers exactly to the words of our Lord in the Gospel of John (John 17:22-23): "The glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me."
*The application of the jasper, in the account of the heavenly city, seems decisively to set aside the notion that the colour of this stone was intended to convey something in the appearance very awful as well as glorious. It is utterly out of the question to attribute such a feature to the New Jerusalem, of which the figure is used still more emphatically. I cannot but think, therefore, that we must search for a meaning in keeping with both, and that the idea of glory and splendour best meets all requirements.
Far more untenable is the view that the jasper sets forth the incarnation. It appears to me to fall in with not a single occurrence of the figure; it sets Revelation 4 hopelessly at variance with Revelation 5, and it would involve, I fear, serious aberration from sound doctrine, if carried out in Revelation 21.
But, besides the appearance of divine glory, there was a rainbow round about the throne. This evidently carries our thoughts back to the covenant that God made, not with His people Israel, but with the earth at large. The covenant with His people is noticed for the first time in Revelation 11, where we have heaven opened and the ark of His testament seen in His temple. It is not the new covenant itself; for when this is brought about, there will be no earthquakes, and lightnings, and thunders, etc., but the day of peace and blessing for Israel. But at the time to which that vision refers, God will show that He has respect to His covenant. Here the rainbow is God's remembrance of His covenant with the earth. The ark spoken of in Revelation 11 is God's remembrance of His covenant with His people. God is going to pour forth judgments on the earth and on those who had the responsibility of being His people. But He takes pains to show that, before a single judgment falls, there is mercy in store. Before He touches creation, there is the sign of His covenant with the earth, just as when He is forced to pour down plagues on His people Israel, the ark of His covenant is seen. The rainbow was the witness that God had not let slip His ancient word: He could not forget it. The rainbow is the sign of mercy. It spans the heavens, and takes in earth and sea, the whole compass of that blessed security of which God had hung out the token on high. And now we have the rainbow not merely over the world, but round about the throne in heaven. This is not its usual place; but it was comforting for John to see, in the midst of all that bright glory, how God wished to fill the heart with confidence. He had not merely the vision of what was coming on earth, but in the circle of the divine manifestation and power the rainbow is seen above. If God shows us His own glory at the same time, the rainbow would tell us that God is true — that He was purposely putting man in mind of His pledge, given after the great judgment of old, and the rather as now He set it in this peculiar place, where a rainbow had never been seen before, in order to assure our hearts. But though peculiar, what could be more in character? For it is the throne of God the Almighty, the Creator and supreme Lord of all things.
Perhaps it is needless to remark that no such things will happen literally; but the vision was a panoramic sign, putting all before the eyes of the prophet — a most lively and admirable way of conveying what God meant to teach. When persons are once thoroughly founded in His grace, nothing is more important than the study of this book. But it may be injurious to souls who have not been so established to get absorbed in the Revelation.
First, then, we have the throne of One who is the centre and source of all the action, God's glory and majesty being set forth by the symbol of the jasper and sardine; and next there is the rainbow, the familiar emblem of God's faithfulness to creation. The rainbow was of a particular kind, "in appearance like an emerald" (verse 3). We could scarcely have colours more opposed than those which represented the divine majesty, and the emerald so refreshing for the eye to look upon. The Holy Ghost gives us a vivid impression by these simple symbols. For this book was not written for great scholars; it was intended for suffering saints. Even by men of the world it has been noticed, that the Revelation was specially the book sought into by persecuted Christians; and certain it is that, while those who make it a field for human research and speculation go wrong here and everywhere else, a general or even bright idea would present itself to the mind of in unlettered believer, who looks up to God and desires the glory of His Son.
The first thought suggested to one by the chapter is, that the only true place from which to look at the things coming to pass after the seven churches is heaven. It is not upon and from the earth that we can rightly judge of these events. It is from above that we must learn and look; if we are earthly-minded, we shall never understand them. If I am merely on the level of the scene upon which the judgments are passing, I shall endeavour to make the best of present things, and to put off the judgments; I am not entering in by the door opened in heaven. A heavenly standing must be taken as the ground, and the only ground, on which these visions can be rightly estimated.
The main object seen is God and His throne — His power ruling in providence. The throne is not in itself connected with priesthood, but with the power whence divine government proceeds. God would establish souls in the thought that He governs, even in the midst of all the wickedness that was to be developed in the time of the beasts, or the final apostacy. The vision is of the throne of One who did not need to be named, but who permits His glory to be seen as far as it can be by the creature. From His throne above He is dealing with the world. Then we have His throne surrounded by the remembrance of His covenant with creation. Next, in the fourth verse, the prophet sees that, round about the central throne of God, there are other thrones. The reason why thrones here are preferable to "seats" is, that it is an essential part of the vision to show that the persons seated there were possessed of kingly dignity. The same word means a throne and a seat, and the choice is only determined by the connection in which it stands. We should not say of a person in humble life that he was sitting upon a throne, nor of the sovereign when in state that he was upon a seat. We can judge by the subject-matter.
Around the throne of God then, in the scene of such glory as man perhaps never saw before, there are other thrones with elders seated on them — that is, those endowed with wisdom from on high, who entered into the thoughts and counsels of God. They are clothed in white raiment, answering to their priestly, as their crowns do to their kingly, dignity. They are clearly saints and at home in heaven by glory around the great central throne before the world's judgment begins. The number of these is twenty-four, corresponding with the twenty-four courses of priesthood in Israel. When the forerunner of the Lord was to be born, his father Zacharias was a priest of the course or order of Abia. In 1 Chron. 24 we must look to see these divisions, and we find the eighth was the one in question. The priesthood was divided into these courses in order that each in succession might take up the work of the priesthood, every course having its own chief priest. The High Priest is not named here: we all know who He is; but we have the twenty-four elders answering to these twenty-four courses of priesthood, or rather to the chiefs who represented them (verse 4).
But a deeply interesting inquiry. arises: If these crowned and enthroned elders represent the heavenly saints, as few will deny, when and to what condition does the vision apply? Does it speak (1) of those who have departed to be with Christ? Or (2) does it foreshadow the manifested kingdom of Christ and His saints during the millennium? Now it appears certain that both these questions must be answered in the negative, and that the time of Revelation 4, and therefore the interval during which the elders are thus engaged on high, is after the separate state is over, as far as they are concerned, and before the millennial reign begins.
For (1) it is obvious that the symbol of the twenty-four elders implies the sum of the heads of the heavenly priesthood — not a part, however large, but the whole. There were just so many courses, and no more. In the vision they are complete; and in the reality, which it symbolizes, this can never be the case, while the saints are absent from the body and thus present with the Lord. During that state of things there will always be members of the church on the earth. For "we shall not all sleep." And when, at the Lord's return, the dead in Christ shall rise first, "we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." That is to say, the symbol understood and interpreted aright requires that all the members of Christ should be together and in the same condition; and as this will never be true of the separate spirits, it necessarily follows that the vision will be realized only when "we shall all be changed" and with the Lord.
But (2) it is clear, that whatever may be anticipatively presented in the songs of the elders, or of others who catch up as it were the chorus of their strains, both the actions of the elders, and the entire heavenly scenery, in which they take so prominent a part from Rev. 4 to Rev. 19, suppose that the reigning over the earth does not arrive as a literal fact till Christ and His saints have left heaven for the judgment of His enemies. But the full complement of the elders is made up a considerable time previously: none can deny they are in heaven before and during the seals, trumpets, and vials. The inference is plain. The saints represented by them must be as a whole in heaven before these judgments begin to be fulfilled. The millennium does not come till Rev. 20; the elders, shadowing the glorified saints, are with the Lord in their changed bodies lone, before. When He comes from heaven to the destruction of the beast, they follow, and with Him they subsequently reign for a thousand years. Others, I doubt not, will be joined with them in that reign: these will not be glorified in their bodies till Rev. 20, having suffered after the rapture of the church under the beast, etc. But Rev. 4 intimates, that the rapture will then have taken place, and that the saints caught up are viewed as a royal priesthood, interested, as having the mind of Christ, in the trials, sufferings, testimony, and hopes of those who succeed themselves, as witnesses for God, during the hour of temptation which will then come upon all the world, to try those that dwell on the earth. Even for the raptured saints on high it is not yet the time for the marriage of the Lamb; and therefore, as well as for other reasons, they are here regarded, not as the body or bride, but as kings and priests worshipping and as yet waiting for their manifestation in glory when they shall judge the world.
There is a solemn connection with this in Ezekiel, where we have twenty-five men named (Ezek. 8:16); and to my own mind it appears that they were the whole of the heads of the priesthood — the twenty-four chiefs and the high priest besides. But where were they now? Alas! they were the promoters of the idolatry and wickedness perpetrated in the temple of Jehovah. They were there not is those whose raiment told of the blood that cleanses, but the corrupters of God's holy standard and the defilers of Israel, leading them on to apostacy; so that, if judgment is to be inflicted, it must begin with the house of God. There is a tacit contrast between the scene here described and that in Ezekiel. There we had the living creatures first, the symbol of the executive judgments Of God — of His judicial power putting down evil. The earthly result of the action of these living creatures, as seen in Ezekiel, might be the destruction of Jerusalem; but this was only what man saw.
The cherubim and the living creatures (ζῶα) are the same substantially; they must be carefully distinguished from the beasts (θηρία) we read of afterwards. The first mention of the cherubim is in the early part of the book of Genesis. (Gen. 3) When sin entered the world, immediately we find them: they were the beings to whom the work of judgment was entrusted. "He placed in the garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword, to keep the way of the tree of life." The emblem of their power was the flaming sword. Again, if we look at the second book of Moses ' we find the cherubim in a new but blessed way. Where were they looking? Within. Had they been looking outwards, they would have seen sinners; had they looked under, that is, into the ark, they would have seen the law; but they were looking within on the mercy-seat, where the blood of atonement was sprinkled. There was the blood that spoke of the perfect mercy of God which had met and triumphed over sin; and there was the power of God — both combined in preserving the glory of God, and both really for man instead of against him.
If we examine this again in the time of Solomon, we find a remarkable difference. The position of the cherubim completely changes, for instead of looking within they are looking out, because Solomon's day typifies the time of glory, when the true Man and Prince of Peace shall rule. And why should they not look out then? Sin will have been judged, and, instead of the goodness of the Believed falling as it were in drops here and there, the King shall come down like rain on the mown grass; as showers that water the earth, and the whole earth shall be filled with His glory — the just answer to the glory of David's Son. When mercy will have had its full way, and judgment has been executed, there will be nothing to hinder the cherubim from proclaiming the goodness of the Jehovah.
But in Ezekiel a terrible crisis came. The mercy-seat had been despised, and Solomon's glory had faded away. Israel was sinning with a high hand, and now the very temple itself was the spot where the greatest dishonour was done to God, and there the cherubim again as good as ask, Can God have nothing to do with this wicked people? Judgment must have its course. Accordingly they leave Israel, though they bring judgment on the land. They are only seen again as giving the signal for judgment, and putting it in force by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.
We have the same thing in Revelation, with this difference, that in Ezekiel the living creatures are seen more in connection with the earth; and this may be the reason why they are there said to have wheels as well as wings. In Revelation, the earthly people being dropped for a season, and a heavenly people called, they are simply seen with the wings suited for heaven, and not the wheels suited for earth. From this omission it is easily seen that, if God is going to speak about judgment, the very form that the executive of His, judgment takes tells us that a heavenly interruption has come in, ere the world's history is resumed. Is it not then of immense importance, if we are to view these things aright, to get a firm footing on the ground on which the apostle stood — to enter in, as it were, by the door opened in heaven?
But, besides this, "Out of the throne proceed lightnings, and voices, and thunders" (verse 5). Evidently this is not the throne that we draw near to; for ours is a throne of grace, and this is emphatically of judgment. Its aspect described here has nothing whatever to do with grace. There proceeds later on from the throne a stream clear as crystal, as in the view of the throne mentioned in Rev. 22; but here "are lightnings, and voices, and thunders," etc., expressive of God's terrors. Even the symbolic likeness given here of God's Spirit is in keeping with it. "There were seven lamps [or torches] of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God." The Holy Ghost does not take the symbol of lamps of fire when God's grace to the church is set forth. No doubt on the day of Pentecost we have tongues as of fire, a beautiful emblem of what God was then about to do; for it was divine force that gave those unlettered men to speak in every tongue. On the Lord Jesus He descended in the form of a dove; but this was quite a different thing from what we have in Revelation. Here it is the consuming power of the Spirit of God. Fire is the well-known emblem of the searching holiness of God. The Holy Ghost in full perfection as light and as a fire burning up evil is the representation that the Spirit gives of His own relation to this epoch. It is plain that the reference is not to the millennial kingdom, for then a stream clear as crystal is to proceed out of the throne of God; still less would such a symbol apply to His action in the body of Christ during the present time. Nor is God's throne now one from which proceed lightnings and thunders.
To what period then is the reference? To a short space between the two, when God has done His present church-work and before the millennial glory begins. The present is the time when God is gathering out His heirs, joint-heirs with Christ, and forming the bride; and now there is a throne of grace where we may receive mercy and find grace for seasonable help. Here, on the contrary, His judgments issue from the throne, and the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of judgment and burning, just as much as the throne is judicial and the source of terrors for the earth. Thus then it is neither the peaceful era of the millennial glory nor the present display of unbounded grace, but a time between the two. It is not conceivable for a person to have just light upon this book who does not see that the Revelation fills up the interval after the Lord has taken the church, and before He comes out of heaven and the church along with Him. (Rev. 19) I speak, of course, of the prophetic visions which fill the body of the book, and not of the three introductory chapters, nor of the close, when the Lord is about to appear. There the whole scene is changed; the heavens are opened to send forth the Lord Jesus, for the purpose of putting the last stroke of judgment to man's iniquity and Satan's power, and then we have the full flow of blessing far and wide. Here we have the time that precedes it — an interval of most solemn character for the world, when the heavenly saints shall have been caught up.
"And before the throne there was a set of glass" (verse 6). It is not a sea of water, where persons could bathe, but a sea of glass. The Holy Ghost uses the washing of water now by the word for the purpose of purging defilement. There was no longer need for this in those before the throne. In Revelation 15 another class is mentioned as standing upon a sea of glass, showing that it is not there a question of the Spirit's power in dealing with what is contrary to God, but the victory is won. So here all question of the trial of the heavenly saints is over. The scene where they had been tried is now closed (Rev. 4), and they are seated round God's own throne.
Here too are the four living creatures, full of eyes before and behind, which are the symbol of discernment; for though it is judgment they have to execute, it is not, we need hardly say, unintelligible judgment. "The first living creature was like a lion, the second like a calf, the third had the face as of a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle" (verse 7). The various symbols are taken from the heads of God's creation here below, and represent different qualities of His judgments: the lion as the head of wild beasts, the ox or calf the head of cattle, man of intelligent beings, and the eagle of birds. The lion conveys the idea of strength or majestic power, the ox of patient endurance, the man of intelligence, and the eagle of rapidity. God shows us the strength, patience, intelligence, and rapidity with which His judgments should be executed. The four living creatures, having each of them six wings, denoted supernatural rapidity, and the eyes within intrinsic discernment (verse 8). Some have supposed, chiefly from the nearness of the living creatures to the supreme throne, that they, rather than the elders, must set forth the church.* But this is quite a misconception. The reason, as it seems, why the living creatures are thus near, is because they are the judicial executive, and providential judgments will then be in progress. They characterize the action of the throne.
*All admit that the cherubim are invariable attendants on the throne of God, and that they were therefore, when in the most holy place, made of the same piece of gold as the ark — itself on which Jehovah sat. But it is argued that, though in till the Old Testament instances they were angelic, because the law had been ordained by angels (Gal. 3:17), they might become human in the Apocalypse, because the world to come is to be made subject to man. (Hebrews 2:5.) Thus the cherubim and the elders would represent the saints in a twofold aspect, active and contemplative. And certainly it is a notable fact, as another has remarked, that before the Lamb appears and takes the book, there are no angels mentioned who praise, and the cherubim or living creatures only express or celebrate the holy character of God, but are not associated with intelligent worship; whereas, when the Lamb is in the scene, the elders and cherubim join in intelligent worship, and the angels are expressly distinguished. But more may be said when we treat of Revelation 5.
"And they have no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." This is a remarkable word. It is not occupation with evil; but when God shows us the means or agencies by which He executes judgment, we have one unceasing cry as regards Him — "Holy, holy, holy."
One of the most important features of this scene for the soul is that the elders symbolize the heavenly saints in glory, the heads of the heavenly priesthood, found in their blessed employ above. But observe that when they are seen there first they are perfectly familiar with the scene: there is no hurry and no anxiety. They are peacefully seated on the thrones. There is no trembling even in the presence of God. These thunders and lightnings and judgments might proceed from His throne, but still they sit peacefully on their thrones: not a single movement is produced. And what is it that does move them? They were entirely undisturbed by terror: judgment does not shake them from the thrones; but when those living creatures shall give glory and honour and thanks to; Him that sat on the throne, the four-and-twenty elders shall fall down, etc. Directly honour is given by the executors of judgment to Him that sat upon the throne, the elders worship. What satisfaction in God — what certainty that sin was at an end — does this show? He is surely going to judge, but He will not judge those who are made His righteousness in Christ. They are in sympathy with Him; and when the living creatures address God and ascribe glory and honour and thanks to Him, then it is that they rise from their thrones and are found prostrate before Him. More than that, in their homage they cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive the glory and the honour and the power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy will they were, and were created," They enter into His personal worthiness in a way that the living creatures do not, and with greater spiritual intelligence. They are elders; they understand here the creatorial and providential glory of God, just as in Rev. 5 we see that they enter into the worthiness and work of the Lamb. "For thou didst create all things," etc. It is not, "are created and were created;" but for His will, or pleasure, they were in existence, even as they were originated at first (verses 10, 11). Thus their praise embraces the two great thoughts in the chapter — the creation glory and the governmental glory of God. "They were" (or they existed now under the care and the government of God), "and they were created" (or to Him they owed their origination).
It is not merely what we shall feel then that God reveals to us; but He desires us to enter now into what we shall have then. This glory is given us already. Assuredly we shall not have such a place then, if we have not got its title upon earth. It is ours now by faith, though then we shall have it in its fulness. What enables the elders to be so calm in the midst of judgment? That which God had done for them through the cross of Jesus. But God has done this now. In Christ was wrought as perfect a work upon earth as there could be in heaven. He will not do another or a better work there, though it may be enjoyed more above. But God has revealed this scene to His own that they may now enter into it intelligently, and may be worshippers according to its spirit, even upon earth, seeing the glory which will be theirs in heaven. Worship is a more serious thing than is supposed by many. Anything that does not suit the presence of God in heaven is unfit for the presence of God on earth, Even in outward things He looks for our hearts to be exercised. It is a bad sign when the children of God allow themselves in any thing that is inconsistent with His presence. We are responsible that the worship of God should be conducted in a way worthy of Him — in solemnity but in liberty. We should be careful that we do not distract others, but rather help one another to enjoy Him better.,
The Lord grant that, walking in holy liberty, and remembering that it is not the order of the flesh or of forms that we have to keep up, we may be preserved from thinking that His order is less reverent than man's! May He vouchsafe us to seek what becomes the presence of Him whom we come together to exalt! He has given us the place of worshippers: may we worship Him in spirit and in truth! A better relation or employment God Himself could not give even in heaven.
We have had in the preceding chapter a sight of the greatest significance and interest; God unfolding the interior, so to speak, of heaven — its thoughts and its employment, before the fall of a single blow of judgment upon the earth comes before us. But the picture would have been incomplete, if the Holy Ghost had not added the scene which we have revealed to us in this chapter. For if there was a divine manifestation, and the elders entered with spiritual intelligence into the worship of God, acknowledging His glory in creation and in providential government, yet they had no song there, much less did they sing "the new song." Now it is the great object of the chapter before us to show this other and fuller way in which the elders are found prostrating themselves before the Lamb, and worshipping Him. The Holy Ghost tales particular pains to point out that God, as He discloses Himself, must be the object, spring, and foundation of all the adoration from the creature that follows. It is not an image conceived by the mind of man; that would be an idol. We must have a divine revelation to have divine truth and acceptable worship. The images of Rev. 4 left God in a sort of mysterious grandeur and majesty. Accordingly the worship of the elders did not go beyond recognising that God had created and sustained all things. It was His glory in creation and in providence, and theirs was suited intelligent praise.
In this chapter we have a sweeter scene. And why? Because we have the Lamb. What blessing does He not bring! He has blotted out sin — has removed the sting of death — has brought us nigh to God, and has put a song in our mouth fit for His presence on high. In this blessed portion of the word we have, as the great subject of it, the bearing of redemption on the occupation or worship of heaven, and the connection of it with the counsels and ways of God on the earth. As long as it was only the creation-glory of God, we had no book at all. But now the prophet looks, and he sees in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne a book-roll written within and on the back side, sealed up with seven seals (verse 1). In ancient times a book was a manuscript roll, written only in the inside in ordinary cases. But here there is a fulness of revelation. It flows over, as it were, and is inscribed on the back as well as within, and altogether is secured by seven seals.
But observe that, if God is seen with this book in His hand, it is only the Lamb who opens, and in connection with the Lamb that the contents of the book appear. How plain that there never can be any opening out of God's mind as regards things to come without the knowledge of Christ and of His glory in respect of them! Every Christian knows that there is no such thing as being saved without Christ; but many do not perceive that there is no real understanding of prophecy without Christ, nor any right knowledge of what the church is.
Thus men easily make religious societies, and call them churches. But I do not hesitate to say that it were easier to make heaven and earth than to make the church of God. But man's presumption has risen to such a height that the highest and holiest things of God are made the work (not to say the sport) of human hands, because they have practically divorced the church from Christ. They treat the subject as optional and external, instead of owning that it is the especial field of the deepest and purest operations of the Spirit, the dearest object of the affections and the witness of the chief glories of Christ. The ordering of the church and the ways of God therein bring out the very depths and heights of divine wisdom and grace.
Again, one main difficulty now, as ever, is that those whom the Holy Ghost brings together round the name of the Lord are apt to carry with them a load of notions out of the country from whence they come — the long-cherished thoughts and habits which they have got to unlearn. They have also the same flesh as others — the same vanity, haste, conceit, etc. We must remember that what other people have done we are in no less danger of doing ourselves. If the church fell away so soon after God had brought out His new and blessed counsels of heavenly grace here below, it is much more easy now (when Christendom has forsaken and well-nigh forgotten its best privileges) to fall again into the same error and unfaithfulness. The great root of the mischief is the tendency to look at the church as ours, not Christ's. You never know the full truth of anything that concerns either God or ourselves apart from Christ. It remains always true that "the law was given by Moses" (and he was a most honoured servant of God), but "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
It is the same with prophetical interpretations. If I connect prophecy with myself, with my country, or my time, I may find in the seventh vial the last French Revolution, or the potato disease, or the Asiatic cholera, or the Crimean war, or the more recent struggles in Germany, Italy, and France. I may read the land "bordering with wings" of Great Britain and her colonies; I may interpret the vessels of bulrushes (Isa. 18) of her iron steamers. Do you think this too absurd? Christian men do so think, and this because they connect things with themselves instead of with Christ. The moment, on the other hand, anything is viewed in relation to Christ, He is the light, and we are delivered from these thoughts of men. For what is our country or our time? Neither one nor other is Christ. If I seek communion with Him, I shall at once be free from the desire to make something connected with myself the centre of. my system. If people look with an historical eye at the fall of the Roman empire or at the rise of the Papacy, at the dark ages, or at the previous invasions of the barbarians, they think it all very interesting, and assume that God could not have left these out of His book — that He must have said something about a transition so important. Thus even the invention of gunpowder has been conceived to be anticipated in Rev. 9, the discovery of America in Rev. 10, and the political importance of Protestantism in Rev. 11. In short, what is too wild for men to think they have not found out in the Apocalypse? And these things are put forth even by godly men. Is not God warning us by all this? May we be preserved from the same snare which has led away persons naturally as sober (or as weak) as we are! He shows us that no amount of information, learning, or ingenuity — nay, that not even piety — will enable us to understand God, or His word. What then will? Christ only.
The Lamb is the key to the things of God, and not our own minds. There are many who think that, the church being the peculiar object of God's love, all prophecy must refer to it. Most erroneous idea! The reverse is true. It would be more true to say that the church is never the subject about which prophecy occupies itself. Its proper province is to treat of earthly events; but the church has its place in heavenly glory When we come really to apprehend this book, we find that judgment is the subject of it; and the express object of these two chapters is to show that, before one of the judgments comes from the throne, the church is taken out of the scene, and is housed, we may say, in heavenly glory. The joint-heirs being then with Christ, God prepares to introduce the First-born Heir into the world. Unless this is seen, the Revelation as a whole cannot be understood. A person might derive comfort from particular parts, but this is not comprehending the book. To understand the scope of the prophecy, I must make Christ the object, and not the church; otherwise I am out of the line of vision in which the Spirit wrote it. Not the church, but Christ, is the centre of God's kingdom. Astronomers used to think that the earth was the centre round which the other heavenly bodies revolved, judging superficially by what presented itself to the senses. Christ is the true sun and centre of God's system.
Here then we find God about to unveil what man's mind could not possibly discover. "A strong angel proclaims with a loud voice," etc. (verse 2). Angels are those that "excel in strength" — not in intelligence. It is nowhere taught that they possess the same kind of spiritual understanding as the members of the body of Christ, The angels are never said, nor could they be said, to be sealed with the Holy Ghost. But He it is, witnessing to Christ, who is the power of intelligence in the feeblest child of God. If I want to know the true place of the church, the body, I must look at the place of Christ the Head; and if I desire to learn what God is going to do with the earth, I must examine God's account of Christ as Son of David and as Son of man. If I am (unwittingly, no doubt) putting the church in His stead, I shall get all wrong. It is most true that God loves His saints, and intends that they shall share with Christ the rule over all the earth. Man draws from this the conclusion that the church must go on and prosper here below; but when the divine revelations touching Christ are weighed more fully, I learn another truth — that Christ, is coming in the way of judgment. This of course supposes that the professing body has not fulfilled its mission; for if it had, who would there be in Christendom for God to pour out His judgment upon? "That servant who knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes."
Look at the truth God brings before us here. First, there is the book, that is to say, the revelation of the counsels of God as to the earth. Not a creature was found worthy to open the book, neither to look thereon. The prophet weeps because of this (verses 3, 4). It should be borne in mind that in this book the apostle, John is not presented in his full place as an apostle to the church, but rather as a prophet. He was, it is true, a most honoured member of the body of Christ; but the object of the book is to not show our nearness to God in that relationship as a prophet of intermediate judgment and of final glory John writes. He is not here viewed as having perfect communion with what was passing around him. But this is very much the characteristic of what is described of the Old Testament seers; as it is said in 1 Peter 1:10-11, "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired," etc. It may be also that the prophet John is here found in this position in the main, because the book of the Apocalypse was not merely intended for the church which was to be translated to heaven, and then symbolically seen there; but it also meant to help a body of witnesses to be found on earth after the church is removed, who will go through tremendous suffering in: the last times. He is a representative man, but rather as it seems of those who are to enjoy the Spirit of prophecy here below in Israel, after the removal of the church to heaven, than of those who as sons are entitled by grace to communion with their Father's heart.
The elders show us the true place that belongs to the heavenly saints; and accordingly when John was weeping much, one of the elders, who thoroughly understood the matter, says to him, "Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book and the seven seals thereof" (verse 5). There at once we find the Lord Jesus introduced. His person is brought out, but it is in connection with the earthly purposes of God. He is in relation with David here. Jesse's son was he whom Jehovah elected King of Israel. (Psalm 78) He was emphatically David "the king" This title therefore expresses the purposes of God about Christ, as far as the earth and Israel are concerned.
Judah we know to be the tribe from which sprang the Christ or Messiah. Hence the style and character in which the elder announced the only One who could open the book — "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." Majesty and power among wild beasts upon earth are conveyed by the metaphor employed. Jacob compared Judah to a lion. One great chain runs through all scripture. The Holy Ghost who spoke by Jacob on his death-bed speaks now through John, and reveals that, rejected as He may be on earth, the Lion of the tribe of Judah is owned on high, the One in whom God's purposes all centre. He is also "the root of David." This implies more than being David's Son: He is David's Lord. He might be of David's line, but He is David's root, the real though secret cause of all his titles and promises; just as John the Baptist said that He who came after him really was before him. But there is another remarkable intimation. It is not merely said that He is worthy, but that He hath prevailed." That little word "prevailed" (conquered or overcame) is bound up with the whole subject of the chapter It is the victory of Jesus by His blood. The Lord Jesus had personal worthiness at any time to take the book, but if He had received and opened it on the ground of His own worthiness alone, what would this have availed for us? All must have been sealed to us still. Therefore the Lord not only proved that He had personal worthiness to open the book which contained these future counsels of God, but He prevailed, and by virtue of that prevailing we are entitled to listen and to understand the mind of God even as to the future.
"And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing as it had been slain," etc. (ver. 6). John had heard of a Lion, but now that he came to look, it was a Lamb. When he expected to see the symbol of power, there stood before all the picture of most holy suffering and rejection. And this was the emblem of Christ as seen even on the throne in all the glory of heaven — a smitten One, guileless and unresisting "a Lamb as it had been slain." He is clothed with perfection of power; the seven horns no doubt mean as much. The seven eyes are the symbol of perfect intelligence — the fulness of the Spirit, here in respect of earth and its government. But the One who is seen with all the power and wisdom is the Lamb. The basis I believe, of all our blessing stands in that blessed truth. The Lord of glory has become a Lamb, and as such must be known, if we are to profit by Him.
The Lamb, as in John 1:29, is what answers to the idea of redemption. Even with the Jews, when the lamb was offered up morning and evening God was showing that, if a poor sinful people had anything to do with Him, and if He could go on with them, it was because of the lamb. Those who by faith understood looked forward, however obscurely, to a better Lamb. God's Son was to become God's Lamb. And now that He is sent away from the world, He is the rejected One, and though glorified in heaven, He still bears there the marks of the sufferer. He is seen in the midst of the throne a Lamb as it had been slain.
Yet the sacrifice of the Lamb is not so much the subject of the Holy Ghost here as His being the holy sufferer accepted above. Only foundation for the sinner, He is also the pattern and the source of the hopes of His own, and for this reason, that if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him. Here then, as everywhere, we find that the King of kings and Lord of lords was the greatest of sufferers. God brings those two thoughts into connection in Rev. 17 — the suffering and rejected Lamb, and the King of kings. Why? Because God would show us all glory resting on Christ, the earth-rejected and despised One. The very cross, which seemed to be the death-blow of all hopes for Israel, opens the way for better thoughts and higher counsels of glory than ever. If we looked at Calvary in itself, it might have appeared that all was at an end, and hope itself for ever laid in the grave; for there was the One who might have blessed them, and vanquished Satan, and terminated human misery and sin, Himself cast out and crucified! All seemed to be nipped in the bud, and prematurely closed in the death of Christ; and yet such was the very way God took that He might readily and eternally bless according to His own heart. What seemed for the time to be the victory of Satan was really the triumph of God for ever over him and his works.
Observe, it is as the Lamb that the Lord Jesus takes His place in heaven. What is the practical effect of this on our souls? The more a man enters into it, the less does he look for a place of honour and esteem in the world. He knows well that, while Satan is god of this world, and Christ hid in God, truth must be despised here below; and consequently he is not surprised if he sees prosperity crowning that which is evil. He will be prepared for all this, because it is just the history of Christ. The slain Lamb brings before us the whole moral course of the world. But one thing more let me ask, Does the Lamb bring before your soul your own history? Do you know what it is to be cast out because of Christ, not because you deserve to be rejected (though in another sense this is true), but because you desire to stand for the Lord Jesus at all cost?
But there is another side: Christ is glorified now — not indeed as yet in the eyes of the world. But heaven is opened to our view, and we find that He who was most despised here is exalted in heaven, and that God has gathered there round the Lamb that was slain others into association with Him. I ask, Has He called you? Has He given you the portion of the slain Lamb on the earth? If you are a Christian, you ought not to be happy without knowing something of this. A saint ought to be pained if he finds that, instead of realizing, he does not know what such language means. God desires that we should know it, not only about Christ, but as our own portion here on earth.
In the days of old David, though God's anointed king, knew sorrow and rejection, while another king had the power for the time. So now, though the power of the beast is not yet fully developed, the world gets ready for him to come and govern it. David was cast out, despised, insulted — thought, or at least by insinuation said by Nabal, to be some run-away from his master; and certainly appearances looked very unpromising, surrounded as he was in the cave of Adullam by a band of the distressed and indebted in Israel. There were many of his followers who, as far as nature was concerned, may have justly deserved to be thought lightly of. But what a change grace makes! David was the special person whom God's heart rested on, and they knew it, and gathered round the object of God's love. There was a dignity that now accrued to them because of their companionship with David. We can hardly be more miserable and weak than we are, but as that one object gave all the value to the inmates of the cave of Adullam, so it is from association with Christ that all our blessing flows. The priests of God were even drawn there by David. But a greater than David is come, and God has sent down the Holy Ghost that we may know that the despised One is now in glory. And the Lord grant that we may have more practical acquaintance with His place of rejection here below, and not want to escape or deny it! There is nothing the flesh dislikes so much as to be despised. It is comparatively easy to buckle up one's strength to meet persecution or determined opposition, but it is another thing to be content in being nothing at all. In us, worms as we are, this touches the will most; yet this is exactly what the Lord of glory, Jesus, condescended to be; and the enmity that despised Him rose to its climax at the cross. In spite of all the pretended enlightenment and liberalism of the present day, the spirit of the world is not really changed. I would not trust for a single moment that which arises from mere indifference toward God, or from glorifying the rights of man. Men count truth and error all as one, have no conscience toward God, and preach respect for each other. The spirit of the age that now looks and speaks so fair might at any moment rise up fiercely against God, and then we should learn the truth of our experience, that it is a slain Lamb whom we know and worship on high. We should discover the reality of it, and of fellowship with Him, and it would arouse many a saint of God from the slumber in which he is now; for even the wise virgins may sleep. "Awake! thou that sleepest" is said to Christians. If you have been asleep among dead things and persons, the Lord grant that you may not remain in this condition, but speedily clear yourself from these, "and Christ shall give you light!"
It is the slain Lamb that is evidently the great centre of heavenly worship. Now that sin is come into the world, the creative glory of God is not enough, nor even His providential government. If He is to be glorified, save in pure judgment of His adversaries, if displays of merciful goodness are to be known in such a world as this, if a new song is to be sung in heaven, there must be redemption, and this not by power only, but by suffering and blood. Hence, as the central throne in the preceding chapter was filled by the Lord God, the Almighty, so here the central object on whom all blessing for the creature depends, to whom, equally with Him who sat on the throne, worship is offered, is the Lamb. All heaven honours Him as the Father is honoured. He is the First-born, the Heir, not only by rights of creation and intrinsic personal glory, but by redemption the divinely appointed "Heir of all things." God destines the wide universe for His sceptre. But how and on what plea would Christ take the inheritance? By power? Surely, all power was His. In the day of His humiliation the demons were subject to the least of His servants through His name. Even then He could say, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven," the energy of the seventy in casting out demons being to His spirit, I apprehend, the sign and earnest of complete victory in due time. "Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy." Why not take the inheritance then and there? After the evidence of such triumphs over the usurper, why go down unto death, even the death of the cross? "Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men." Because God must be vindicated in His majesty, love, wisdom, and righteousness. Because Christ could not accept a defiled inheritance. (Compare Col. 1:20 and Heb. 9:21-23.) Because He would not reign alone, and in this He and His Father were of one mind. In His grace He would have joint-heirs, the sharers of His glory. Such a reconciliation was only possible through death, even if the offering were the body of His flesh, all spotless flesh as it was. Peace could not be made stably and divinely save through the blood of His cross. Therefore is it that He is here seen and sung as the Lamb. God means assuredly to bring the First-begotten into the habitable world; and the book in His right hand describes, I suppose, the process whereby the inheritance is to be put into His hands; but purchase by blood, blessed be His name, is the ground on which all is taken. When He receives the book, all is in motion. As in Rev. 4, when the living creatures pay honour to God, the twenty-four elders fall down and do homage, so here, when the Lamb takes the book out of the right hand of Him that sat on the throne, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders are prostrate before Him. Though it might be opened for the purpose of striking some blow, there was no apprehension, no trouble, no concern about themselves in particular; they fell down before the Lamb. It was not a question of merely receiving from God, but they would exalt Him. Far from taking away anything from God, on the contrary, in the very presence of the throne and of Him that sat on it, the Lamb is the object of worship, the source of its purest and deepest strains. God is best glorified when the Lamb has His meed of praise.
They had "each a harp and golden bowls* full of odours, which are the prayers of saints." In the tabernacle service of the wilderness silver trumpets were used for holy purposes by the priests. David first introduced the harp, separating the sons of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, for songs in the house of the Lord with cymbals, psalteries, and harps. These, like the priests, were divided into twenty-four classes; so that the allusion is obvious, with that measure of difference which is characteristic of the Apocalypse. Priestly and choral services are here blended in perfection. Does not this also serve to show that the elders only are here said to have harps and basons of incense? In Rev. 15 the four living creatures give the angels the seven golden bowls full of divine wrath. Thus all is in keeping: the elders being the heads of royal priesthood, as the cherubim wait on the execution of God's judgments, though both unite (Rev. 5) in the fullest homage to the Lamb. But who are those "saints" that pray? The elders, or the church, were in heaven, and in full choir of praise. Whose prayers then are these,? They come from saints who will suffer when the church is above. The elders are those heavenly saints who have been removed previously, including perhaps the Old Testament saints. They are in the place of adoration and praise, whereas prayer implies reed. If they have to do with prayers, it is the prayers of others, not their own. Besides they sing a new song, that of the Lamb's purchase by blood, saying, "Thou art worthy, for thou wast slain," etc.
*The reviewer in Evangelical Christendom, August, 1860, p. 451, objects, among other departures from "the time-honoured expressions of our venerable Saxon Bible," that I have given "bowls" instead of "vials." But surely he must be aware that "a small bottle" is not intended by φιάλη here, or anywhere else in the book, but rather a broad open vessel or bason. Compare in the LXX. Ex. 27:3; Ex. 38:3; Num. 7 passim: also answering to other Hebrew words, Num. 4:14; 2 Chron. 4:16, etc. We ought not to sacrifice the sense to sound. The English word "vial," though derived from the Greek, really misleads. Habit or the ear may account for such a preference.
A very important change occurs in this verse, well known to every person tolerably acquainted with the original scriptures. Persons who have studied the most ancient manuscripts and other witnesses of this book, all agree that it is, "and hast made them to our God kings (or a kingdom) and priests" (ver. 10). Who are those meant by "them" and made kings and priests "to our God"? They do not speak of themselves.
Indeed, I am prepared to go farther, and am bound to state my firm impression that in the ninth verse the word "us" was put in by copyists who supposed that the elders were celebrating their own blessing.* But the elders are so perfectly at rest about themselves, that they can be occupied about others. I believe, accordingly, that the true sense is this: "Thou art worthy to take the book, … for thou wast slain, and hast bought to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made them to our God kings and priests; and they shall reign over the earth." They are speaking about the saints whose prayers they were offering As they were occupied with their prayers, so here they were praising the Lord for His goodness to the saints still on earth. They intimate that in taking above the heavenly saints, He had not done with His rich mercy; that, even in the midst of His judgments, He would have a purchased people, who were to share the glory of the kingdom as a royal priesthood, instead of being swallowed up in the delusions of antichrist.
*It cannot be denied that the true readings of Rev. 5:9-10, are some of them unusually hard to be decided. Out of five there are four uncial MSS. available, one of the oldest being deficient from Rev. 3:19, to 5:16. The versions too are conflicting, and so are the editors. There is no doubt, however, that we are obliged to read αὐτούς, "them" (and not ἡμᾶς, "us") in verse 10, on the authority of the four uncials (the palimpsest of Paris being here deficient and so leaving us one short), forty cursives, and many ancient versions. But evidently that substitution, true and certain as it is, of them for "us" in verse 10, obscures or destroys the connection with the preceding verse, if "us" is supposed to hold its ground in verse 9. And this is the more noticeable, as both clauses form part of the same song in the mouth of the same personages. For what more incongruous than "redeemed us … and made them," when no other class has been referred to between the clauses? Hence the strangest solutions of the difficulty have been proposed. Thus Prof. 31. Stuart, who takes for granted the correctness of the text of Griesbach and Scholz, refers the αὐτούς of verse 10 to φυλῆς, γλώσσης κ.τ.λ. i.e. "thou hast made every tribe," etc., "to be kings and priests." Now, limit this as you may, it is a construction awkward in the extreme, and without parallel in St. John, or perhaps in any other author. Besides, it ignores, instead of solving, the enigma. For ἡμᾶς ἐκ is left out of the result, and if the same party is intended (as Prof. S. thinks), the question is, why should "us" be used in verse 9, and "them" in verse 10? The alternative to which the Professor is reduced, of portioning out this short song between the living creatures and the elders, and thus accounting for the change in the pronouns, strikes one as an evidence of the difficulty rather than of its removal. Singular to say, he alludes to the true key, as it seems to me, as if it had no authority beyond the conjecture of an eccentric German. The truth is that in one of the best manuscripts (A or the Codex Alexandrinus) which contain the passage, ἡμᾶς in verse 9 does not appear; nor is any equivalent given in one of the oldest extant versions, the Aethiopic of the fourth century. It is also wanting in a cursive MS. known in Codex Borgiae. I admit that in this case the amount of testimony is far from being considerable. Nevertheless the omission seemed probable to Griesbach; and in fact it is dropped in some of the latest editions of the Greek Testament, which appeal to ancient authority. Tischendorf omitted it from the first, as he does still: Lachmann had it in his earlier manual, but erased it in his second and more correct edition: and the younger Buttmann has it not in his recent manual Greek Testament (Leipsic, 1856): so Dean Alford. These critics have arrived at that conclusion on independent principles, and on purely external grounds. If it be sound, the construction is elliptical but frequent, especially in the writings of St. John (compare John 16:17; 2 John 4; Rev. 2:10; Rev. 3:9; Rev. 11:9). There can be no objection, therefore, on the score of phraseology, but, on the contrary, the sentence runs quite in his style without ἡμᾶς. Some scribe, ignorant of this, and supposing that the saints in heaven must needs sing there of their own redemption, as they had done on earth (Rev. 1:5-6), may have inserted the first ἡμᾶς. This, in turn, producing a jar with the αὐτούς in the following verse, would naturally require the further demand of taking its place there; and that again would lead to the change in the person of the verb in the last clause. The internal considerations I believe to be very weighty in favour of the omission; but these have been, perhaps, sufficiently given above in the text. The reading ἠγόρασας τῳ θειῳ ἡμῶν (as in Cod. 44) appears to be the original text. The Alexandrian MS. which is the nearest among those that diverge, followed pretty closely by the Aethiopic, omits ἡμῶν in verse 9 and τῳ θεῳ ἡμῶν in verse 10. But these words are unquestionably genuine, and add much to the proof that the elders praised the Lamb for His redemption of others, distinct from themselves.
These anticipated companions are the same probably that we see in Revelation 6 as "souls under the altar, slain for the word of God," etc.; and in Revelation 14, "Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord from henceforth," etc.; and in Revelation 15, "Them that had gotten the victory over the beast," etc. There are other allusions also in the body of the book to the righteous. Clearly they were saints of God upon the earth in conflict or tribulation, after the elders (who, as we saw, represent the church or the heavenly saints) were translated to heaven. As to the saints who won the victory over the beast, "they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb." Observe the mingled character of the scene. True, it was the song of the Lamb; but it was the song of Moses too: it was partly earthly and partly heavenly. Again, in Revelation 20:4, it is said, "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them." These are the elders, already risen or changed, seated upon the thrones "And I saw the souls of them, that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the word of God" (i.e., the people whose souls he had seen in Revelation 6); and, again, those "which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads;" these last being the persons that had sung the song of victory in Revelation 15. Thus the two classes which had suffered, after the rapture of the church, are at length united with the rest in glory, and all reign together with Christ.
It will be remarked how thoroughly the whole agrees with the song in Revelation 5. The elders are in heaven, in the enjoyment of God and the Lamb; but there are saints on earth who are praying, and the elders above are occupied about their prayers, and celebrate the worthiness and work of the Lamb in behalf of others who should reign over the earth as well as themselves.* Instead of this taking a single fraction away from us, it adds indirectly, if not in itself, to the place of glory in which the church is seen in heaven. They are so fully blest that they can heartily rejoice in the good of others. There are some too apt to be restless if they are not always listening to the gospel for themselves — not because they value it more than others, but because they are not thoroughly established in grace. When our hearts are quite satisfied, we do not feel the need of anxiously picking and choosing in the scriptures; we prefer the Lord to choose for us, and are thankful, because it may be something to His praise that we perhaps have not known before, or a weapon we may want in our next conflict with the enemy. Whatever exalts Christ and glorifies Him is that which we should delight in. Whatever detects the deceitfulness of our hearts is most salutary to us. When the elders are found thanking God, they take up His goodness to those who are suffering on the earth, and they bless the Lamb because He had been slain and had bought these also to their God. It was their delight to think of that work so rich in results for God — to think of others from every quarter who should share the kingdom over the earth.
*I cannot but think Mr. E.'s remarks and notes on this (Horae Apoc. i. pp. 86-96) confused and unsatisfactory. He reasons from vulgar readings which no, competent critic, whatever may be his bias, can entertain. It is easy to convert a preconceived opinion into a decision that our own view is much more simple. It is also a serious mistake to say that the sense is "substantially the same," whether we have us or they in verse 10. Again, the Sinaitic and Porphyrian MSS. turn the scale in favour of the twenty-two cursives, and the better ancient versions, which support βασιλεύσουσιν against A B, eighteen cursives, etc., exhibiting the present tense. but ἡμᾶς and βασιλεύομεν are indefensible and manifestly the work of a meddling corrector. It is strange too that the question of the ellipse in verse 9 is passed over in silence, seeing that there "us" is, to say the least, doubtful; and if spurious removes the main reason for viewing the ζῶα as redeemed. Mr. E. treats this last idea as "unquestionable," of which there is really no proof whatever. It is evident, further, that there is much embarrassment as to the condition of the elders, in one page referring their insignia to the resurrection-state, and in the next concluding that it is the division of the church consisting of the departed in paradise especially, that we must suppose depicted here. Finally, it is erroneous to speak of "the general assembly of the church;" for πανηγύρει belongs to the clause about the angels. But letting this pass (as the authorised version misleads many in Heb. 12), what is meant by the apparent distinction, in p. 94, between the church of the first-born, and the spirits of just men made perfect? I quite allow this; but I do not see its consistency with Mr. E.'s statement about the elders and cherubim.
The angels take up, not the new song in view of the Lamb's purchase, but His worthiness to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. Loudly do they proclaim His title to dominion whom man despised and slew. "Worthy [not "art thou," but] is the Lamb that was slain" (verses 11, 12). They do not sing of His purchase, because they were not so bought; they have not to do with it, though they are sustained by the power of God; but those who have known their need as poor sinners can well sing the new song. The angels speak of His worth and His death, but they do not chant the deep and joyous notes of the blood-bought. If I look at the gift and person of Christ, I can see how God's character comes out, and His love is manifested. if I look at the great work of Christ., and what I have in and with Him as He is, I can see how the love of God with us is perfected. But where is anything in the glory of heaven that shines so much as the cross of Christ? We may follow Jesus on the earth, and see the holiness of God; we may glance above, and see how He delights in having us happy around Him; we may look again at Jesus in His path on earth, seeking out the lost, the miserable, and laying His hands on babes, even touching the leper; but whether we think of the holiness or the love of God, of His righteousness or His grace, it is in the cross where all is found and displayed to faith, as we can get it nowhere else.
"And every creature which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth,* and such as are on the sea, and all things in them, heard I saying, Blessing, … to him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever" (verse 13). The chord is touched, the keynote sounded, and heard at last in heaven. If the Lamb takes the book, not a creature but responds in joy to the ear of the seer, as now the whole of the lower universe groans in sorrow because of Adam's sin. Why should they not rejoice if God and the Lamb unite to deliver? Doubtless it is but the opening out of the Lamb's title-deed; and much remains to be done in destroying the works of the devil. and those that destroy the earth. Still this is the sure signal, and before God every creature anticipates in sympathy.
*Every creature "under the earth," ὑποκάτω τῆς γῆς, must be carefully distinguished, notwithstanding Bengel, from the καταχθονίων in Phil. 2:10. The former, I suppose, means the things, animate or inanimate, beneath the earth's surface which anticipate in the vision, their deliverance from corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. They cannot of course share the liberty of grace which we enjoy; but when we are in the glory, it will be the pledge of their glorious change speedily to follow. The latter in Philippians means the infernal beings, who must bow with every knee elsewhere at (or in) the name of Jesus. I am aware that Dean Alford, with Theodoret, etc., takes καταχ. as the dead; but this, though a classical usage of the word, seems to be far from the scope of the passage.
All bow down before the Lamb. The myriads of angels join in acknowledgement of His death; but it is the place of the heavenly saints to enter into the sense of its efficacy, yea, and into the deep joy — God's joy — in the blessing of others, and not merely their own. The four living creatures set to it their seal, and say "Amen." but the elders fall down and do homage.* They did not merely yield their assent to all, but their hearts went along with it. It is ever their place.
*It is well to note that all the reliable authorities, including all the five uncials, a vast body of cursives, and most versions, etc., omit ζῶντι εἰς τοὺς αἱῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. How admirably this omission coalesces with the context and maintains the glory of God and the Lamb as the common object of homage on the part of the elders is evident.
Such a subject as this may well leave one immensely behind. We must be living very much in its depths in order to feel it aright, or to give it an adequate expression. But if I have directed attention to the blessedness of Christ as the slain Lamb, and shown that God makes Him to be the key for understanding His otherwise hidden purposes, I shall be thankful. Even to understand God's purposes about the earth, we must see the Lamb. It is only in communion with Him that we can enter into them. To appreciate what follows, we must be subject to God's thoughts of Christ; we must no back to what God begins with; we must see and hear the Lamb. The Lord grant that such may be our better portion? We shall be near that Blessed One, in whose person and work shines all that is gracious and blessed in God, from whom we can learn in peace His most solemn judgment of man's rebellion and apostasy.
From the two preceding chapters the lessons are apparent, and I do not doubt should be learned: firstly, God sits on the throne, whence proceed lightnings, voices, and thunders; secondly, all things are given into the hands of the Lamb, who unfolds all; thirdly, the perfect security and the blessed employment of the heavenly saints, then removed from the scene of trial; and this long before the day of the Lord, when their blessing will be manifested fully to the world. The moment the soul and the body, or both (the soul now, the soul and body united at the coming of Christ), leave this world, there is for the saints, I believe, immediate enjoyment of the Lord. Is that a scriptural thought which, in a hymn we sometimes sing, about "soaring to worlds unknown"? Does scripture intimate anything at all like a soul journeying on a voyage of discovery? On the contrary does it not meet with peaceful and immediate entrance into the presence of the Lord? When heaven is allowed to burst for a moment upon men on the earth (as, for instance, at the birth and the transfiguration, and in the cases of Stephen, Paul, etc.) it appears that there is no such great distance between them. Of course it is not a question of mere physical space. But there is a divine power which at once brings a person out of the present state of existence into the enjoyed presence of the Lord. So when He Himself was speaking to the poor dying thief, it was "today shalt thou be with me in paradise," — that very day. There is nothing to my mind like the poetical sentiment of soaring to worlds unknown.
But while the soul goes at once into the presence of the Lord in the case of death, and "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," the saints will be caught up at the coming of Christ; yet we must remember that their manifestation will be a different and later event. Other passages prove or imply an interval. But we should not be able so plainly to gather from other scriptures how considerable it will be between their gathering to the Lord and their manifestation to the world, but for the prophetic part of the Revelation, which makes it quite clear. God has important purposes to fulfil during this interval. He has to put the earth into a condition to receive the Lord Jesus, who as the great Heir of all things must be put in possession of the inheritance. But, further, He purposes to bring the joint-heirs from heaven along with Jesus. Accordingly the interval is filled up with the preparations for all this. To accomplish it, there must be judgments upon the world's wickedness; but, parallel with these judgments, we have some signal acts of divine mercy. When the great and terrible day of Jehovah comes, there will be forbearance no longer with such as are found evil; "the door is shut." But during the intervening time there will be testimony and the reception of it among both Jews and Gentiles; but so much the more surely judgment for those who, having heard the gospel now, will have rejected it. I see small ground to conclude that there will be hope of mercy for such. There will be an interval of some years, in which God will work in judgment and in mercy — judgments increasing in severity on these favoured lands where the gospel has been preached; but I doubt any such thing as the grace that now is. The sad reverse will appear. God will give up to blind hardness those who have now refused His mercy. He will, as it were, retire from these countries to save outside them; and from those who have been talking so self-complacently about the light with which they are favoured, God will then, if I read prophecy aright, turn to such as are now far away from the gospel.
Is it not a solemn thought that, where the light of Christendom is now most found, there will be the greatest darkness of apostacy? As to this scripture it is plain enough. (2 Thess. 2) He lets us know that the favoured scene of God's mercy, where He is now at work and His word is most circulated, is destined to fall back into the most frightful and fatal idolatry — into the union of infidelity along with it — into anti-christianism. (Dan. 11:36 et seqq.; Rev. 13.) Such a change may be set down as the gloomy dream of a feverish mind. But this is because men prefer to believe their own thoughts and fancies, and do not take the trouble of searching into God's word to see what is there. Alas! do not too many in Christendom even make the prophetic word a butt for their ridicule? Will it be believed that men pride themselves on their ignorance of a great part of scripture? Would it be conceived, if it were not the fact, that the wise and prudent hold as an axiom that prophecy was not given to show us what is coming, but only, when the events are past, to prove that God had foreknown them? Surely the Christian wants no proof of this; and prophecy is given that the believer should know how God opens to us His secrets about what He is going to do on the earth. We have the word and the Spirit to make us understand it. But if Christians have not faith in the prophetic word, it cannot profit them; for, like the rest of scripture, that word must be mixed with faith in them that hear it.
One important thing, then, we have seen to be assumed — the removal of the heavenly saints from the earth. In Rev. 4, 5 and throughout the body of the book they are no longer found there. They are glorified in heaven, and yet it is not until Rev. 19 that they are manifested, when they come out of heaven. Between these two points we have evidently a long series of events. We have seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials, with various episodes of great interest and importance. These three different series of judgments are not executed by the Lord in person. It is manifest that they must occur after the Lord has come to receive His church, but before He executes His grand personal judgment in Rev. 19. For it is beyond dispute that, before the saints are taken to the Lord and so can come with Him, He must have come for them. How then did those symbolised by the four and twenty glorified elders get to heaven?
It may be said, they might have been taken into this position individually through death, or that their souls might be glorified there. But there is no such thought in scripture as the souls of the saints being seated on thrones, and having crowns on their heads. Neither do the souls of the saints form the complete headship of heavenly priests, as taught us by the four and twenty elders; for we know from 1 Thess. 4 that part of the heavenly company will be found alive on earth up to the presence of the Lord which raises the dead and changes the living believers. There can be no such completeness, then, as is meant by the symbol till the Lord will have translated both to meet Him above. The allusion is to the twenty-four orders of the priesthood set up by king David. Now Christ is at that time about to take the place of king, and, just as before the kingdom of Solomon was established, David divided the priesthood into twenty-four courses, so we find that before the true Solomon, the Lord Jesus, comes out in all His glory, we have the antitypical courses as a whole. The heavenly priesthood is seen complete.
It might be asked, Why is it only the heads that are seen, and not the body of the priesthood? It appears probable, but I only offer it as a suggestion, that those that are taken up when the Lord comes will form the heads of the priesthood, and that those who suffer after and join them may be the subordinate body. Twenty-four is necessarily the complete sum of the courses, or of their chiefs. Now, the souls in heaven can never be even that completed; because till Christ comes, there will always be a part of the church remaining on the earth, as we have just seen. I conceive, therefore, that by the full priestly number twenty-four surrounding the throne, God intends to show that they are not that portion which consists of the souls in paradise;* for it requires the addition of us who are alive and remain, in order to make up the church of the firstborn, or the then complete sum of the risen and changed saints. The heavenly saints up to that time must then be necessarily removed to their seats on high.
*The reader of the Horae Apoc. will remember how embarrassed the author is on this very point (i. 91-96). He is compelled to own that the elders' insignia point to the resurrection-state after Christ's coming, page 92; yet in the next page, 93, he says, it seems that it is especially the departed in paradise that we must suppose figured here. For want of seeing the distinction between the παρουσία of the Lord and the ἐπιφάνεια τῆς παρουσίας αὐτοῦ (2 Thess. 2:1, 8), these and other perplexities constantly spring up.
How and when did this take place? There is no real difficulty about their translation, because they never can be removed as a complete body, and changed, till the Lord Jesus comes Himself; as He said, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself." And this evidently is not sending angels for them. We find angels sent to gather in elect Jews, or Israel, from the four quarters of heaven (Matt. 24); but to gather in His church He comes Himself. And this falls in with what we said elsewhere. The saints in Thessalonica were told to wait for God's Son from heaven (1 Thess. 1); and as to those who were gone, they were not to sorrow as those who had no hope. For the lord Himself — not merely by angelic or providential intervention, but the Lord Himself — would descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. There might be angels, but there is not a word said about them here. When the Lord is revealed executing vengeance angels will accompany Him; but here, at the descent of the Lord Himself, "the dead in Christ shall rise first," forming one portion of the heavenly saints; then "we which are alive and remain" shall be caught up together with them. There and then, as it seems to me, we have the twenty-four elders, evidently the whole of the priestly heads. The saints whose bodies are in their graves are raised first, then the surviving saints are changed, by the presence of the Lord. There is but the barest interval of a moment between those two momentous effects of the voice of the Son of God. And so shall we, caught up together, ever be with the Lord.
This most solemn and blessed event must occur therefore between Revelation 3 and 4. It is not described, because the object of the Revelation is not to show the Lord's coming in the way of grace, though there are of course allusions to it. There is an entire passing over of His presence to meet His heavenly saints in the prophetic visions of the Revelation, but a full description of His coming with them in Rev. 19. This last is what is styled elsewhere the appearing or day of the Lord, when He punishes with everlasting destruction from His presence, and from the glory of His power. During this interval the heavenly saints are with the Lord above; all the members of the church are there, and in their bodies of glory. The first mention of them is in Revelation 4, where we find not angels, but redeemed men — persons whose very vesture of white, whose thrones, and crowns of gold, are all connected with redemption — persons who are evidently exercising their priesthood before God in Rev. 5. These are the elders. How did they get there? The Lord must have come, and have gathered them to Himself in the air, and so have accomplished His promise to them: — "In my Father's house are many mansions." "I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am ye may be also. So now when this future scene arrives, having prepared the place, He will have come for them, and taken them to the Father's house.
It is remarkable, however, as showing the character of this book, that, although we do see them in the presence of God, it is not called the house of the Father. On the contrary, it is a throne that is seen; and so too, when He who sits thereon is named, it is not as the Father, but as the Lord God Almighty. When we speak of God as "the Father," it is to express the nearest place of affection into which God has brought us; and when we hear of God as "the Lord God Almighty," it is connected with the putting forth of Divine power and government. "God," as such, is the most general and abstract name, and implies no relationship with another being. But to be called "the Father" necessarily implies the closest relationship of love, whether spoken in the highest and intrinsic and eternal sense of Jesus as the Son of the Father, or subordinately of those whom He has taken into the adoption of sons, loved with the same love. (John 17 and 1 John 3.)
In Genesis 1 creation is the subject, and God (or Elohim) is spoken of as the One who originates. In the next chapter of Genesis He is called the "Lord (or Jehovah) God," because He is there entering into special connection with His creatures, and Adam is put in the place of responsibility to Him as Jehovah-Elohim, that is the God of creation in moral relationship. How perfect is every word of God! Infidels, instead of seeing the perfectness of His word, have only reasoned from their own ignorance and impotence, and have endeavoured to prove that these chapters must have been written by two different persons, because of the different titles given to God. But instead of being the varying style of different men, it is the wisdom of God that discovers itself in these distinctions. When the relationship of authority occurs, and man is put under the test of obedience, Jehovah-Elohim is the title used; but when in the New Testament He enters into relationship with sons, it is "the Father." He did not bring out the latter name as a formal name until THE SON came, who opened, so to speak, the sluice, that all God's grace might flow out, and specially in His resurrection by virtue of His death. But between the two extremes of the trial of the creature in Eden and the accomplishment of redemption, God brought out first the name of Almighty, and next that of Jehovah. Abraham was called to leave his own country and kindred, called to be a pilgrim, having none but God to look to, and so Jehovah most suitably reveals Himself to him as El-Shaddai, God Almighty. (Gen. 17: l.) Subsequently He makes Himself known to Israel by His name Jehovah, as a ground of national relationship.
Here the Lord constantly brings out these names, but not that of Father, or at least not to us, but to Jesus. Just as the scene is not the Father's house, but the throne, so the title taken by God is not that of Father. The centre of this heavenly scene is the throne of God, and the saints are not alluded to as enjoying mansions with the Son in the Father's house, but are seen enthroned. God will be no longer gathering the church on earth; Jesus will have come for it, and gone above. When the church was the object of God's care on the earth, they even here below called Him Father; but when He is going to execute judgment on the earth, they, already raptured and in heaven, understand it and address Him accordingly.
The Lord's coming, then, to receive the church must have been before the facts which answer to the vision of the twenty-four enthroned elders. Some people may be slow to believe that the prophecy would pass over such an important event in silence. But it is forgotten that, whenever and wherever you put it, there is silence as to the act of the saints' rapture in the book of Revelation. The only question is, Where according to our best light from scripture is it to be understood here? It must, in my judgment, be supposed before the heavenly saints can be seen as a complete body above, which is in Revelation 4. The Lord will then have come and received the glorified saints, and given them their place in the presence of God, before any of the judgments come on the world. Terrible things in righteousness are going to be enacted, but the saints will be above them all. The seals, and vials, and trumpets, have no terrors for them; they call out from the glorified not trembling, but worship only. Nay, these risen ones will be occupied, it seems, about their brethren who are still in the midst of trial; for there shall be saints called after the present work of God in forming the church is done with, brethren who will suffer on the earth after we are gone. Of these the central part of the Revelation treats (Rev. 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, etc.). Again there will be godly souls alive when the King comes to sit on the throne of His glory, and all the nations are gathered before Him, whom He will call "my brethren." As is plain in the latter part of Matt. 25, the living Gentiles, or nations then on the earth, will be treated according to the way in which they may have behaved to the messengers of the King. The sheep will have proved themselves to have faith in the King, because they have received His servants; the conduct of the goats will have shown their incredulity. For when all the preliminary warnings given to those on the earth are over; when all the judgments that proceed from the throne in rapid succession have been proved to be in vain, and the rebellious hearts of men are only rising higher against God, the Lord says as it were, "I will send them no more chastenings, will wait no longer for a repentance which is refused, but will come myself and sweep them away to destruction." Accordingly this day of judgment on the quick we have in Revelation 19. And the interval, from Revelation 4 and 5 to Revelation 19, is filled by new dealings of God in providential judgments, by intermingled mercy to Jews and Gentiles, and by glances at the heavenly saints in the presence of God.
No doubt the souls of dying saints go to God during the interval, but whatever may be the blessedness reserved for such (Rev. 14:13), the saints who are already changed remain there through the whole period. The heavenly saints, including those that are true Christians now, those that have been such before, and the Old Testament saints, may be caught up at any time to be with the Lord. I know no scriptural ground which entitles a believer to say, He will not come tomorrow. Who can affirm with divine authority that there is something yet remaining to be done before, that there must be a delay? No doubt there may be more or less time to intervene, but scripture never puts the delay between us and Christ's coming, but before His day. As a servant with his hand upon the door, and on the stretch as it were for his master's arrival, so as to be able when he comes to open unto him immediately-such is the true attitude of the child of God now. So says our Lord Himself. He would have, if so we may speak, everything settled up. He looks for practical readiness at all times. Not as though we could do anything by way of preparation. Thanks be to God, He has made us meet through the grace of Christ. But there may be things in our ways and walk, in our spirit and hopes and objects, which will not stand the light of His presence. Whatever we do, we should seek to enter on nothing that renders the thought of the lord's coming unwelcome.
We must then, if wise, beware of speculations or plans which suppose us to have a long time before us. The Lord desires us to be as travellers passing through a foreign land, and withal going out in desire to meet Him who is speedily coming for us. The Lord may be a little longer than we think; but He is coming, and this too at an hour when men think not. His coming will immediately act on all the heavenly saints, raising the dead, changing the living, and removing both to Himself above. Then follow the scenes of Rev. 4 and 5, which let us see the interest of the glorified saints in the righteous who suffer on the earth, after the others are gone to heaven. They cannot apply fully, either while only a part of the church is above and in the separate state; or when the millennial reign is arrived. They suppose an interval between these two things, when the Lord will have come and changed them into His risen likeness, and before they accompany Him from heaven in order to judge and reign.*
*It will be observed that this, if well-founded, decides the question of the true and proper application of the rest of the book. For what more weighty than to know whether it speaks throughout its central visions of the time during which the church is still on earth, or of the days which follow — the great crisis when the church is not here but risen, and God is dealing with the earth after another pattern? To say that it is given to us to know these visions proves nothing. All scripture is given to us and is good for us, but it in certainly not all about us; and we are most profited, not by the fancy that God is always thinking of us, but by really understanding its objects, scope, and end. Had Abraham imagined that he was to be involved in the impending catastrophe of Sodom because the Lord graciously revealed it to him before it came to pass, such a delusion would have done him harm. It was not to Lot who was there, but to Abraham who was not, that the fullest communication was made. And so it will be, I doubt not. A remnant is to be saved — saved as through fire. May our place be above it all — above the world in spirit now, and looking down upon its plans and progress with the abiding consciousness of a judgment that hastens — destined to be actually above when that judgment comes.
Next we come to the earthly course of "the things that must be after these." The seals are not judgments executed by the Lord, but of a providential nature. Some, because of the white horse, have thought that the first seal applied to Christ. On the face of it, what more strange than to conceive Him so represented, seeing that He it is who, as the Lamb, opens the seals successively, and, when clearly alluded to under the contents of the sixth seal, still preserves the name of the Lamb! And yet stranger that He should enter on a course of conquest at the very time, if you take it historically, when all Asia had turned away from Paul; when Timothy had the sad and sure foreboding of evil men and seducers waxing worse and worse; when John himself had written, or was about to write, "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." Nevertheless most of the ancients and not a few moderns begin their comments with this false start.
Some, again, refer it to the second advent; but this quite upsets the order of the seals fixed by the Holy Ghost, and indeed the structure of all the book. It is true that in Rev. 19 where the Lord comes judicially and in person, He is represented as riding upon a white horse. But there is all the difference possible between that vision of the white horse and the opening of Rev. 6. This horse does not issue from heaven, as that in Rev. 19 does. Next, there is not a word in Rev. 6 about the rider, which necessarily means Christ; whereas in Rev. 19 He is called Faithful and True, and said to judge and make war in righteousness. Of whom could this be said save of One? His eyes were as a flame of fire. His written name none knew but Himself. The Word of God — King of kings, Lord of lords — can be the titles of none but Jesus. Not to speak of the blood-dipped vesture, the sword proceeding out of the mouth, the iron rod wherewith to rule, and the treading the wine-press of divine wrath, are descriptions in Rev. 19 to which nothing answers in the rider of Rev. 6. No armies followed here, clothed in fine linen, etc. And though the rider is said to have a crown given to him, the word is quite different from that employed in Rev. 19, which signifies a kingly diadem, the crown of royalty. The earlier Romans were fond of a sort of chaplet, which did not to their mind, like the imperial diadem, convey the idea of absolute authority and that is the crown mentioned in Revelation 6.
Furthermore, there are two frequent figures or symbols used in scripture to express power; the one is the throne, and the other is the horse. Thus we have already seen the supreme throne above, and now we have the horse with the rider on earth. The same thing is seen in Rev. 19 and Rev. 20. The symbol of horses in the one chapter, and of thrones in the other. The difference between the bearing is this: When power is meant by putting down of rival or opposing authority on earth, "the horse" is taken, as from its use in war, it is intended to subdue; but when the victory is won, and it is a question not of subjugation, but of governing and judging, "the throne" is used, as being the fit emblem of rule over those who have been thus subdued or are subject. When Christ is going to put down His enemies, He is seen in the vision of chap. 19 on the horse, used to represent the exertion of His power to subdue; when the subsequent sway is meant, thrones appear in chap. 20. It would be quite weak, of course, for persons to confound this symbolic use with a material horse or throne. The idea of the former is power to subdue, and of the latter is dominion after the victory has been gained. The throne may also be used, as it is afterwards, for the solemn and eternal judgment of the dead — a throne of stainless holiness. Still even here, it is Christ's judgment before the kingdom is given up to God. (1 Cor. 15; 2 Tim. 4)
Of course we cannot apply the four horses and their riders to the great empires, three of which had long disappeared. Equally untenable at least is the notion that four successive religions are intended, especially when one hears it gravely laid down that Infidelity closes the list, which primitive Christianity opens, followed by Mahomedanism and Popery. It is hard to say whether such thoughts are most opposed to time or place, to congruity or context. Again, it is agreed that it is harsh in the extreme, and in almost every point of view, to understand the first seal of Christ or the church in early gospel triumphs, and then the three subsequent ones of the Roman empire or emperors.
But it is important here to notice, that there is positive ground from the Apocalypse itself to deny the assumption that the horse means the Roman empire. I do not refer to passages like Revelation 9:17, where literal cavalry seem to be meant; but Revelation 19 furnishes an example of its symbolic use. Does the Lord on the white horse mean His direction of the Roman empire? Or the white horses of the linen-clad hosts, do they imply imperial powers? Surely we must look for an interpretation more in keeping with its usage elsewhere. It means, in my judgment, a militant aggressive agency towards the earth, though it may be from heaven. Hence, as in Zech. 1, it may apply to the Lord, or to the various imperial powers which succeeded Babylon. And so the chariots with the horses of various colours in Zech. 6. But as distinguished from the horns (Rev. 1:19), the former symbol rather refers to the providential instruments behind the scene, and connected especially with these empires, than to the rulers themselves or their realms. Plainly therefore there is no ground from the book itself or from Zechariah, to which the allusion is obvious, to interpret the horse simply of the Roman empire.
Nor is there better ground in profane history to maintain that the horse is the special sign of that people and power. And no wonder. For the Roman infantry was more characteristic of their military power than their cavalry. No doubt the horse abounds on their medals, but not more comparatively than among other warlike nations, particularly in the east, who so set forth their victories. It had formerly been one of the Roman standards of war, but for two centuries before Domitian all the varieties had given way to the eagle.
Abstractly, then, the horse cannot be regarded as the necessary national badge of Rome, or emblem of the Roman empire. Whether it be referred to here must depend on contextual considerations. And here it appears to me that the fourth seal rises up conclusively against such a view, the four seals being providential judgments homogeneous in character but differing in form. The Roman earth may be the sphere, but this has nothing to do with the symbolic force of the horse in the passage.
Without further discussion let me state my own view. We have a regular series of providential judgments. The first is the white horse, the symbol of triumphant and prosperous power. "He that sat on him had a bow" (verse 2). The bow is the symbol of distant warfare.* His course is evidently that of unchecked victory. The moment he appears, he conquers. The battle is won without a struggle, and apparently without the carnage of the second judgment, where the sword, the symbol of close hand-to-hand fighting, is used. But this first conqueror is some mighty one who sweeps over the earth, and gains victory after victory by the prestige of his name and reputation. There is no intimation of slaughter here.
*The ingenuity of Mr. E.'s attempt to make out in the bow an allusion to the Cretan origin of Nerva's ancestry is undeniable. Yet even if one admitted a more precise reference to past history than I conceive to be intended, I am convinced that the meaning of the symbols is not to be sought in recondite points of antiquarian research, but rather on the surface, or at least in the broad and natural features of the scriptural portrait.
But the second judgment is of a more appalling character. There went out a horse that was red, and the one who sits upon him is not the proudly prosperous victor to whom people tamely submit, but one who, if he wins, waves his standard over heaps of slain. Accordingly, he has a blood-red horse — the symbol of power connected with frightful carnage. The result of the first seal (i.e. of the victorious career of the white-horse rider) may have been peace and comparatively bloodless changes; but all is sanguinary under the second seal (ver. 4). The fiery-red horse, the peace taken from the earth, the mutual slaughter, the great sword, are tokens too plain to be misunderstood.
The third horse is black, the hue of mourning. It is a colour chosen to show that there must next follow peculiar sorrows, caused not now by bloodshed, but by scarcity, and perhaps, we may add, to man's feeling, a most capricious famine.* Here we have the voice proclaiming (ver. 6), "A choenix of wheat for a denarius, and three choenixes of barley for a denarius; and see that thou hurt not the oil and the wine." The penny in our country would give the idea of something insignificant in value, but in those times and lands, a choenix of wheat for a denarius was very costly; for not long before men could procure seven or eight choenixes for the money. A denarius was given for the daily wage, and was barely enough for a man's daily food; for the choenix of wheat appears to have been a minimum, being the allowance given to a slave. But while there should be this scarcity of the very staff of life, there was a command not to touch the luxuries of life, the oil and the wine. What the richer Classes require was not to be touched, but only what people want of the prime necessaries of life. God is laying His hand upon the world.
*It is almost incredible the amount of discussion, if not of careful research, which has been expended on this verse, and especially on the import of "a measure of wheat for a penny" (i.e. a choenix, or about 1.5 pint English, for a denarius, or about 8d. of our money). Is a time of scarcity or abundance indicated? Or does the verse proclaim an authoritative adjustment of a due average price? It appears to me that, (1) occurring as the third seal does in a series of providential judgments, such a question ought not to have been raised by the least enlightened reader; for, in such a connection, how incongruous the idea of plenty or a fair price! And (2) are not these thoughts particularly contradicted by the details of the seal in question, as e.g. by the black or mourning colour of the horse, and by the balances in the hand of the rider? (Compare with the last Lev. 26:26.) The facts of the case are on the whole plain and decisive. Thus from Cicero's Orations, we learn that the Senate estimated wheat at four serterces the modius (= 8 times the choenix); and, what is more important, that the then market price in Sicily was two serterces, or at most three. "Hoc reprehendo, quod, cum in Sicilia HS II tritici modius esset … summum HS ternis … tum iste pro tritici modiis singulis ternos ab aratoribus denario exegit." (In Verr. Act. 2 lib. iv. 81.) The inference is that the extortion was, say, half the Apocalyptic price. Again, it is allowed that the ordinary price under the Emperor Julian and his successors (i.e. long after St. John) was moderate. From the Misopogon it seems that the price of the modius was then about 12d. of our money, and therefore the choenix = 1.5d. or less than a fifth of the Apocalyptic rate. But it is argued from a passage in the Natural History of the older Pliny (lib. xviii. 10), that in his time, which was a little before the Apocalypse was written, the medium price of wheat was about the same as in the text. This would be the more extraordinary, not only as opposed to Roman experience both before and after, but also because that laborious compiler does not speak of the prices then current as extravagant. We know that in nothing are MSS. less to be relied on than in numerals. Besides it would seem that several elements more or less mistaken have concurred to perplex the case. "The comparison of ancient and modern prices of corn is a difficult subject, and the results hitherto obtained are unsatisfactory." (English Cyclopaedia, Arts and Sciences, vol. iii. col. 251.) It is well known that Dr. Arbuthnot's tables no longer carry their former authority, and that modern scholars reject some of his premises, and most of his conclusions. Now it was on his computations chiefly that the author of the Horae Apoc. depended. But (1) if I understand Pliny, he speaks in the passage cited, not of the price of broad, but of flour, which then cost forty asses the modius. But it would appear that the similago or flour spoken of was by no means coarse, though there might be finer; for out of a peck of wheat came but a half peck of this flour, with a large residue of pollen, coarse meal, and bran. (2) There is no evidence that I am aware of in St. John's time to set aside the common Attic choenix, which was the eighth (not the fourth) part of a modius or peck. The verses of Fannius Rhemnius are not forgotten, nor the reading which Facciolati and others prefer, which reduces the quantum of the choenix one half, and thus harmonizes with other authors. And why were they cited if it be another scale, seeing that he lived a considerable time after not St. John only, but even the epoch to which the Protestant historical school would refer the accomplishment of the third seal? (3) The denarius, no doubt, in very early times equalled ten asses, whence the name was derived; but it is notorious that about the second Punic war, B.C. 214, it was by law made equivalent to sixteen asses, save in military pay, fines, etc., which were reckoned by the old standard. Who or what will the reader suppose is our authority for this? The very same work of Pliny (lib. xxxiii. 3). Nay, more, in the same chapter we are informed that, forty years later, the Papyrian law reduced the as one half. It is absolutely necessary to bear in mind these extensive changes in order to avoid the astounding results in which Dr. A. lands his followers. The true inference, it seems to me, is that the price in the Revelation shows decided and painful scarcity, as it exceeds that of the Cassian law eight times, and the actual Sicilian market price of Cicero's day yet more (xii. 76). It seems about as fair to cite on the one side the starvation price related by Caesar (De Bell. Civ. i. 52), as the poetical licence of Martial on the other. There is hardly a siege or a lengthened campaign, even now, without raising the price to a degree that would be fabulous under other circumstances. The adulteration of the denarius under the second Severus to a third of its original value is deemed by Mr. E. to set right his great difficulty in the price of the wheat. But the question is as to its value in exchange. Wheat must be excessively dear, if a man could not do more than procure a quart for his day's labour. Nor would there be any disposition to employ labourers, if the prices of provisions were such that a man's daily wages were swallowed up in buying five or six lbs. of barley. The ratio of the barley to the wheat is, I admit, singular, as it was and is usually one-half, instead of a third. In, Rome, however, wheat was the food of men, barley of horses; and it was a military penalty to use barley. According to Seneca a slave's monthly allowance then consisted of five modii (= 40 choenixes), and five denarii. Under the emperors Roman citizens (save senators) received corn gratuitously, and the tessera was inherited, bequeathed, or sold. For such to buy at the price prescribed must press heavily indeed. Jerome's interpretation of Eusebius' Chronicon puts the modius at six drachmae or denarii, during the famine in Greece in the eighth or ninth year of the Emperor Claudius. Syncellus doubles this, which Scaliger prefers. It is but fair to add that the Armenian text edited by P. J. B. Auchor (ii. 153, 193, Ven. 1818) confirms this emendation.
Yet such events as these might happen in ordinary times. There might be some great conqueror any time, and this might be followed by bloody struggles; and this again by famine, etc. And in the fourth seal we have God's four sore plagues let loose together, the sword, famine, death, and pestilence, and the wild beasts of the earth, but here limited to a fourth part. They are but preparatory chastisements as yet. "And behold a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hades followed with him" (verse 8). In Ezekiel 14 you will find that these four same things are mentioned together in connection with Israel. In these first judgments God does not proceed to any very extraordinary measures. A conqueror is no rare thing in the earth, a bloody and perhaps civil war not uncommon. These might be followed by a famine, and that naturally enough might breed pestilence, etc. Thus man would account for these things, and the wise are caught in their own craftiness. But we know before, through God's word, that there is a time of conquest coming — then of bloody warfare — next of dearth — and lastly of the outpouring of God's sore plagues. The heavenly saints must be set in rest and peace in the presence of God — the church must be safely sheltered before these judgments begin.
The next scene, under the fifth seal, is a remarkable one. The living creatures drop their cry of "Come,"* which was connected only with external judgments in providence. But now we have a series of events somewhat different. The fifth seal discloses that God has a people on earth still. Who are these that are suffering now? The prophet sees their souls under the altar, where they are as holocausts offered up. Though dead, they yet speak. They were slain because of the word of God, and because of their testimony. Man after that has no more that he can do. They call for retribution; for after the Lord has taken home His heavenly saints, He will begin to call earthly ones. They will not of course be born again by a different Spirit, but they will be called to a different path, and will not know God in the same full and near way wherein He reveals Himself to us now, and as we ought to know Him. These saints will have "the Spirit of prophecy." Such was the mode the Holy Ghost wrought in the Old Testament saints. The effect of the Spirit of prophecy was that they were waiting for Christ to come for the accomplishment of promise and prophecy; and so these saints will wait for Christ to appear in glory. All their hopes hang on Him, who is to be their deliverer from circumstances of such excessive sorrow.
*It may be well to mention in this note my opinion that the words "and see" (which, according to the common text and the authorised version, follow "Come" in the call of the four living creatures) appear to be an interpolation. In the case of the second (verse 3) there in no difference of judgment among critical editors of the least note; but, strange to say, Griesbach and Scholz retain the ordinary sense in the last two, and, in the first case of all, Knapp along with them. Buttmann, Hahn, Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Tregelles omit the words uniformly, and, as I think, with reason. The difference as to interpretation would be this: as the text. rec. stands, it in a call from each living creature to John; but if they merely cry "Come," it would seem to be a direct address to the riders on the several horses, who accordingly come forth at their bidding. The connection of the living creatures with the action of the horsemen in providence is made clearer and stronger by this little change. Besides, it entirely precludes such remarks as those of Mr. A. Jenour in his Rationale Apocalypticum, vol. i. pp. 214-217. That ἔρχου refers to Revelation 22:17, 22, and means the groaning of creation or a prayer for Christ's coming, is quite wrong. Why should any of these be "in a voice of thunder?" That the call of divine providence should be so heard is natural.
Not thus do we expect Christ for ourselves. We have rest in Him now. Though surely looking for Christ to come, we have present communion with Him in peace, and the title, whether slain or not, always to rejoice in Him. It does not become Christians when persecuted to say, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge, and avenge our blood?" Stephen "cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." Such also is the only right and suitable prayer for the saints of the heavenly calling.
But here the sufferers are on different ground. They take up the position, and express the sentiments described in the Psalms, which call for divine vengeance. Hence such as think that the Psalms are intended to convey our place and proper feelings as Christians find great difficulty in understanding the language of imprecation that is used in them. It is an error so to apply them; for "what the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law" is the apostle's comment after quoting from the Psalms. (Rom. 3) But when the church is removed, God — from His place on the throne — will pour out the judgments described in this prophecy; and then it is that these Psalms fully apply. God deals in mercy now: then it will be earthly judgment. When these visions are really accomplishing, God will show not as now the exceeding riches of His grace, but the exceeding terrors of His righteous wrath: and so when that day comes, and men are yet heedless, the saints living or dying say, "How long, O Lord," etc.
"And a white robe was given unto each one of them" (verse 11). That is, vindication has been accorded them, though they do not take their place on thrones till Revelation 20. Disembodied spirits are never said to sit there. We do not read of spirits glorified, but of bodies, when they enter on their destined blessedness above. They will reign with Christ. Thus, after the church is gone, there will be persons who witness for God here below, but taking up totally different language — the claim of retribution and not long-suffering grace. It was a holy duty once to exterminate the Canaanites; it would be far from a Christian's place now. How unbecoming for us, if God would show mercy! But when He introduces His kingdom by judgments, that conduct will be right and suitable which would not now be in season. When God sees that the due moment is arrived for the earth to be chastised and judged, it will be a holy thing to take part in it. But if the Christian were to occupy himself in judging bad people on the earth now, he would be doing what the Lord is not doing — nay, the very reverse of what engages Him He is now at work in marvels of grace, and thus all who understand Him will be acting in the same spirit.
The tremendous convulsion (verse 12) of the sixth seal comes apparently in answer to the prayer of the saints who are concerned. The language at the close of the chapter shows that the powers and instruments high or low of the persecuting world received an earnest of their doom, as truly as the slain ones in the seal before have their recognition in part before they inherit the kingdom. Their blood, we may say, cried to the Lord of Sabaoth. They lived unto God, and shall surely rise again; but they must wait. Another class of martyrs must yet be made up. "It was said to them that they should rest yet a little space, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, that should be killed even as they, should be completed." No account of the killing of these saints appears here: we must seek for this in other and subsequent parts of the book. The earlier sufferers meanwhile enjoy the result of righteousness, and are owned of God; but they are to await the filling up of a new and distinct band of martyred brethren, who are to suffer up to the close. Then retribution will come. Iniquity must reach its height and do its worst ere the hour of full divine judgment. Another and final outburst of persecution must precede. But mark here also that no such hope is held out to a single individual as the Lord's translating them without passing through death.
We have stated that the heavenly saints (that is, the dead in Christ, and we who remain to the coming of the Lord) have already been taken from the earth, as Revelation 4 had shown, the fifth chapter adding another thing, that while they are above, there are righteous persons on earth in whose prayers the risen saints are interested. That is to say, those above are found in the place of intercession; and there is nothing sweeter than that place — nothing in which we are practically brought nearer to Christ, save in our immediate relationship to Himself. The church is destined to have that privilege in glory, as we have it now in grace for all men (1 Tim. 2) — the privilege of intercession for others still in trial on the earth. The church will take the deepest concern in their sorrows, blessings, and hopes.
But who are these sufferers on earth? In Rev. 6:9, as we have seen, there was a dreadful slaughter of the saints. They cried with a loud voice, and we are permitted with and through St. John to hear their cry. They appeal to God as the Sovereign and arbiter of every soul. "How long, O Lord, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" Evidently this is not a Christian cry: I do not say it will not be a believing one, but suited to their circumstances and to the then dealings of God. People are so narrow that they think a person can never be a believer without being a Christian. It is quite true that now a believer is, of course, a Christian. Even the babes know the Father. "Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father; he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also." But in divine things we ought always to gather our thoughts and our language from scripture, not from our own imagination. Now, though Abraham and all the Old Testament saints were born of the Spirit, yet they were not Christians in a proper New Testament sense. For a Christian is not only one who has faith in Christ, but one to whose faith Christ dead and risen has been presented by God, and who has, consequently, the Holy Ghost uniting him to Christ in heaven. But this was not and could not be till Christ had come and finished the work of redemption. They had the new birth no doubt, for to be born again does not necessarily imply that the work of atonement had been previously accomplished; but still there is a difference of position into which the accomplished work, and the consequent presence of the Spirit during Christ's absence in heaven, has brought us.
From those under the altar, then, we do not hear Christian accents, but that which reminds us of the state and feelings revealed of old. From the time that the Lord Jesus came into the world, and went up on high, as the rejected One now glorified — from that time the sufferings of Christ as the righteous witness for God, and in perfect grace to man, become, so to speak, reproduced in His people. The Holy Ghost puts them in sympathy with Christ. What was in a measure true before was now the appointed portion for the saints. None but Christ could possibly know suffering from God for bearing sin. But part of the suffering even of the cross was because Christ was put there through the wickedness of men: another and a far deeper part was, that He was put there by the grace of God for the vindication of His holiness, and the deliverance of the sinner. In the last He suffered for us; in the first we may and should suffer with Him. Hence, the apostle Paul did not hesitate to say, "That I may know him and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." A Christian might share the sufferings of Christ, in the sense of being cast out even unto death. The apostle himself had it often literally before him in this way. (See 2 Cor. 1; 2 Cor. 4.) He knew the fellowship of Christ's sufferings; Stephen knew the same.
Such is not this cry. Here the sufferers were under the deep feeling of the wrong that was done to them, and they called only for the judgment of God. How different the state of things when persons. instead of shrinking from prison and from judgment, thanked God and went away full of joy, because they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus! Is this what we get here? No doubt, the world is as unrighteous as ever; but is there not something more blessed now than appeals to God to deal with the world as the world has dealt with us? This was the state of things when men had to do with the law; as the principle of righteous retribution will appear again in the millennial day, when they will have the law written on their hearts. As far as the moral import (δικαίωμα) of the law is concerned, God makes that good in His people now. But there is another principle which is being displayed now in every form; for God's grace is going out to the lost. Christ's death is the greatest manifestation of that grace, and the Holy Ghost works after this pattern in the hearts of His people. But the cry under the fifth seal is that sin may be laid to the charge of their oppressors, and vengeance taken accordingly. This is righteousness, but not grace. Let us bear in mind, however, that God does not allow us to take up a righteous or a gracious cry just when we like. We are always wrong when, under suffering from the world, a gracious cry is not brought out by the blow. When we have to do with one another, we are entitled to look for godly and righteous ways from Christians: indeed, it is part of the character of a Christian to feel what is wrong, as well as to value what is right. (Rom. 12.) But there should always be power to rise above evil, and to bring out Christ to meet it, whether it be in the way of discipline for those within, or of intercession for those that are without. God is dealing in perfect grace, and so should we, with the world.
Here, in the seals and sequel of the Revelation, it is another state of things God is judging in a preparatory way for His people; it is another order of relationship, not that in which He has set us till the Lord receives us to Himself. Accordingly it is the Jewish expectation of deliverance through God's destruction of the adversaries, not the Christian's hope of removal out of the scene to heaven. Righteous vengeance is invoked on those that dwell on the earth. Not that vindictiveness is implied, but assuredly it is not practical grace. They look therefore for God to judge, instead of longing, as we should do, for Christ to come and take us to Himself. "The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come."
Remark, that the word used here for "Lord" is not the one that is generally employed; but the same term occurs in Luke 2:29, Acts 4:24, Jude 4. It means the Lord as "sovereign master." It is also used in 2 Peter 2:1: "Even denying the Lord that bought them." We have not here the nearness in which we know Him as "our Lord," but the general authoritative relation in which the Lord is the Master of the whole world — of all men, whether bad or good. It is never said that those who know Christ by the Holy Ghost can deny the Lord who bought them.
However that may be, the appeal is answered by the throes of nature universally, presenting in symbols to the prophet's eye what was coming. "And I beheld when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the whole moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth its untimely figs, when it is shaken by 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" (verses 12-14). The heavens are convulsed from one end to the other; the stars fall, etc., evidently, as it seems to me, in the vision only. "And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the chieftains, and the rich, and the mighty, and every bondman and free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and they say to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his* wrath is come; and who is able to stand?" (verses 15-17.) Every class of men is in agitation through these impending judgments. It is not really the great day of the Lamb's wrath, yet people think that it is. They fear that the last day is already come.
*The Vulgate with good authority, in we have seen, has "their" wrath (ipsorum, not ipsius). But I take this opportunity of saying that, invaluable as the best Latin copies are as a support of ancient and excellent readings, it seems a perilous thing to throw aside all the MSS. and every other version, and all the early writers save those who merely echo the Vulgate, as Mr. Elliott does in following its "quattuor partes" (verse 8). There is really no ground but the exigencies of his system. To square with facts, according to his application, it should have been not the fourth, but the whole of the Roman empire. Hence Jerome's manifest oversight is adopted, and it is argued that he must have had ancient witnesses now lost! But this is most unreasonable when we see that Jerome is often loose. To take this chapter alone, is it pretended that "vocem," in verse 1, the omission of "et," in verse 2, "singulae," in verse 9, "insulae," in verse 14, rest on original authority? Are they not evidently due to mere laxity of rendering? And why impute "quattuor partes" to a higher source? The wonder is that we have not some of the later Greek manuscripts influenced by the Latin in verse 8, as perhaps 26 was in verses 1 and 2. We know there are stupendous blunders occasionally in the best copies of the Vulgate, as in 1 Cor. 15:51; Heb. 11:21. Why give it a place in this verse, which is not claimed for it in any other verse of Old or New Testament? Besides, is it according to the analogy of this book, or of any other book, to speak of "four parts," if the entire empire were intended? The attempted historical answer of quadripartition seems to me extremely meagre. This, of course, is matter of opinion. But it is serious when the author is so enamoured of his theory as to bid his readers "well in that if the prophecy here differ from the history, it differs from, and is inconsistent with, itself also: seeing that the whole horse is depicted with the pale death-like hue, not its fourth part only." — H.A., i. 201. This is bolder than man ought to be with God's word, unless there were infinitely graver grounds against the text. The inference from the horse I have, I think, shown to be unsound.
An idea has prevailed with many that this seal represents the epiphany of the Lord in judgment at the end of the age. This has disposed them to understand the description as a literal account of the heavenly and earthly changes which accompany that great event. But there is no solid foundation for such thoughts. In the first place, the seventh seal is not yet opened, so that the end it cannot be, even if one adopted the system which supposes the trumpets to be a rehearsal from another point of view. Again, not a word occurs alluding to the presence of the Lord. There is a great earthquake; but the appearing of Jesus is incomparably more serious than any possible commotion in the world. The difference is manifest, if we compare these verses with Rev. 19:11-21, and with 1 Thess. 5; 2 Thess. 1; Luke 17:24-37, etc. Not to speak of the sixth trumpet, under the seventh vial (which must surely be owned as at least not earlier than the sixth seal) there is an earthquake, of which the Holy Ghost speaks in still stronger terms. Yet we know that this is before the day of the Lord; for all admit that the vials are poured out before He comes as a thief. And à fortiori why not the sixth seal? Had these convulsions been given under the seventh seal, there might have seemed more tenable ground: as it is there is really none.
There is also this marked difference between our seal and the passages in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, with which some would connect it, that in the latter the Son of man is expressly said to be seen coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, in the former, as has been remarked, there is not a trace of it. It is represented under the seal, that all men in their terror say to the mountains and rocks, (is this literal, after they had been moved out of their places?) "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his* wrath is come; and who is able to stand?" But it is a revelation, not of that which God declares about the time or circumstances, but of men's alarm and its effect on their consciences. To take what John saw in the vision as so many physical realities, to be then verified in the literal sun, moon, stars, and heaven, is, I think, an opinion adopted without due consideration. Would there, could there, be need for any to invoke the fall of the mountains and rocks, if the stars really fell unto the earth? Could men or the globe survive such a shock? Besides, it is plain that the description alludes at any rate to passages in the Old Testament, such as Isa. 13, 34; Ezek. 32:7-8, and Joel 2. Now the last distinctly states that the signs therein predicted are before the great and terrible day of the Lord come, and the first had its accomplishment in the past fall of Babylon, though there be also types of a more solemn and universal catastrophe at the close.
*The Sinai MS., the palimpsest of Paris, and the excellent Vatican cursive, conventionally known as 38, with the Vulgate and Syriac, read αὐτῶν, "their." which admirably fits in with the context.
All this is to my mind decisive that the sixth seal, according to its natural place in the prophecy, in no way means the great day of the Lord, but sets forth, first in figures and then in simple language, an overwhelming revolution which overthrows existing institutions and governmental order. The authorities, supreme, dependent, and subordinate, are broken up. The shock is universal. They think the last reckoning is come. Not the Lord, but their bad and affrighted consciences call it the day of His wrath. But when that day does come (as in Revelation 19), they are bold as lions. The very frequency of divine judgment acts upon the hard hearts of men; and so, though the trumpets have yet to blow, and the judgments become more and more intense, yet when the Lord comes in person, instead of calling on the mountains to cover them, they are found fighting against Himself. When their consciences were not so hardened, they were alarmed; but when the great day arrives, they are in open rebellion against Christ. What a thing is the heart of man! and what an infinite mercy which has brought us, not in the thought of His wrath — though the Lord grant that this may be used to awaken some souls — but by His grace to enjoy the peace He has made by the blood of His cross! He will have us also in the full fruition of our heavenly blessedness, when all these judgments are passing beneath us. To be above in the presence of Him who will then direct and at last execute all needful infliction — this is to be our portion. The Lord grant that we may walk in His grace now, not dragged down into the spirit of the world, nor standing for our own rights. Alas! if sinful men begin to talk about their rights, let them remember that in the sight of God the only thing they have a right to is to be lost for ever. If He dealt with us on that ground, when — how could we be saved? But He has forgiven us all our wrongs, and has given us the joy of standing for His rights. May we be true to Him and to His cross!
The careful reader of the Revelation will have noticed that this chapter does not perform any part, properly speaking, of the course of events. That is to say, it is neither one of the seals, nor of the trumpets, nor of the vials. We have not finished the seals yet. In the sixth chapter we have had six seals, and there is a seventh that comes before us in Revelation 8. What then is the meaning of Revelation 7? It is an interval — a sort of parenthesis in these events — that occurs between the sixth and seventh seals. Under the sixth seal there is a frightful catastrophe among kings and subjects, high and low, calling to the rocks and mountains to fall on them, and hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. To their minds His day was come.
On the other hand, when He opens the seventh seal (Rev. 8), there is silence in heaven about the space of half-an-hour: so that the whole of Rev. 7 is no link in the regular chain of the history foreseen. Yet this apparent interruption of historic sequence is just as orderly as the formally numbered series of the judgments, because all that God does is perfect: every detail is fixed with the greatest care and nicety. What confirms this is that, when we come to the seven trumpets, the sixth trumpet is given in Rev. 9 and the seventh does not appear till Rev. 11:15; so that the whole of Rev. 10 and the larger part of Rev. 11 form a great parenthetic revelation of events, similar to what we have in the chapter before us. Indeed to me it is still more remarkable in the trumpets; for you will observe in Rev. 9:12 it is said, "One woe is past, and behold there come two woes," etc.; and then we have the sixth angel sounding, and the description of the Euphratean horsemen But it is not till Rev. 11:14 that "the second woe is past," evidently referring to the Euphratean horsemen mentioned before in Rev. 9. So that the whole scene of the mighty angel coming down from heaven, of the little book that was to be taken and eaten by the seer, of the temple and worshippers measured, of the court and city abandoned for forty-two mouths, of the two witnesses, their testimony, death, resurrection, and ascension, — all this forms part of the striking episode. Thus, as there is a parenthesis between the sixth and seventh seals, there is an exactly corresponding one between the sixth and seventh trumpets; and not only so, but we have something analogous in the vials. If you look at the sixth vial (Rev. 16:12), you will find there is an interruption between it and the seventh. First the water of the great river Euphrates is dried up, that the way of the kings from the East might be prepared, and then we have a totally different subject. "I saw three unclean spirits … they are the spirits of demons;" and then, distinct again from this, "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth," etc. This is a brief but singular parenthesis, containing both the account of the evil and the lord's coming in judgment on it. I only refer to it now for the purpose of showing that there is nothing but what is laid down with the most astonishing precision of purpose in God's word, and in this book, it may be added, conspicuously.
Taken up at first sight, the Revelation may appear all a maze; but it is not so really; for the impression arises from ignorant haste or from incapacity to discern. The fact is, that people bring certain feelings or wishes with them to the book, instead of waiting in the desire to know what God thinks and speaks to them in it. Let us take the highest ground of faith for the word of God, and maintain that the Holy Ghost is the only power for understanding any part of that word. Whether for a man's soul, for his salvation and hopes, for his practical guidance, either individually or corporately, for his ways in the church or in the world, for his instruction as to the worship and the service of God, or even as to his relative duties on earth, whatever it be, there is divine light for every step of the way; and the only reason why we do not all see it is, because we have not the single eye which faith produces. It is faith that receives the blessing; and I believe that, as it is ever true that "according to thy faith so be it unto thee," it will also be blindness according to the measure of unbelief. The Lord always gives what faith counts on from Himself; unbelief inevitably finds the barrenness that it deserves.
In this chapter, however, it had long been a difficulty how there could be here the sealing of a body of elect Jews and the vision of an innumerable company of spared Gentiles, when their blessing only comes at a later part of the book.* But the moment I learnt that it was all a parenthesis, and that the actual time when the sealed remnant of Israel and the saved Gentiles come into public action and take their place upon the stage is another thing altogether, that difficulty was at an end. God for our comfort, while the judgments are going on, allows the curtain to part for a little moment, and we see that they are all safe under His eye and ready to be manifested in due time. But when they come publicly into view is another question. In Revelation 14 there is a body spoken of, 144,000, of whom the Lamb is the centre, and these stand with Him on mount Zion, having His name and His Father's name written on their foreheads. That body is evidently similar to, though not the same as, the 144,000 that we have here; and perhaps also we may compare, but not identify, the "nations" in Rev. 21:24-26 with the countless host of Gentiles here. Still more striking is the resemblance to the sheep of Matt. 25, because these are not merely the blessed Gentiles of the millennial day, but had stood the test during the interval of grievous trial which preceded it. And observe that the sheep in that passage are distinguished from the King's brethren who have a position yet nearer to Himself — Jewish saints who, after the church is taken to heaven, will be entrusted with the gospel of the kingdom, which is to be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations before the end comes. Thus, in Matt. 25:31-46, Israelitish brethren of the King, just before the close, test the Gentiles, who at His appearing are summoned before His throne, and discriminated as blessed or cursed, their faith or unbelief being proved by the way they had carried themselves towards the messengers of the coming kingdom in the time of their sorrowful testimony. Millions of the nations will be born during the peaceful millennial reign, for whom the loosing of Satan at its close will be fatal, even were all spared at first born of God.
*Not many of my readers will be more disposed than myself to accept Mr. Elliott's way of accounting for the occurrence of the sealing and palm-bearing visions at this particular time. Augustine, the celebrated Bishop of Hippo, flourished at the date to which he applies the sixth seal, or rather its consequences! Mr. E has culled from his copious writings whatever might be supposed to strengthen this far-fetched idea; and certainly it would be strange if in so large a field he did not find abundance to his hand. But when he begs "the reader to pause and consider with himself, whether he can possibly imagine any two symbolic figurations that would more exactly symbolize the doctrinal revelations made to Augustine than those that were exhibited at the exactly correspondent epoch in the Patmos visions to the representative man St. John," I must answer that I think if the vision of the holy city Jerusalem had been inserted after the sealing and instead of the palm-bearers, Mr. E. would have sung yet louder in praise of so marvellous a foreshadowing of Augustine's great work De Civitate Dei. Let the candid reader judge.
In this chapter, then, there are simply two striking scenes, connected in sense if not as to epoch, outside the regular march of things. The Spirit of God, who laid down the historical order of the divine judgments, leaves that for the moment and shows us that God has mercy in store even in the coming day of distress. Israel will be in frightful circumstances: "Jerusalem shall receive of Jehovah's hand double for all her sins." As she had been strong in her hatred against the Lord, so will He reckon that His vengeance has been doubly poured forth upon the guilty city. We have had judgments, first beginning with comparatively ordinary events, such as a great conqueror going forth, bloodshed, scarcity, God's sore plague (death referring to the body and hades to the soul); then a remorseless outburst of persecution on God's people; next a universal and dreadful convulsion before the eyes of the seer, affecting heaven, earth, and sea, the greatest alarm and bewilderment among men, who think that the day of the Lamb's wrath is come. But that day was not come then. When it does arrive, the Lord will execute judgment in person on the dead and the living. But now it is a panic which leads men to dread judgment-day. And the kings of the earth, and the nobles, and the chieftains, and the rich, and the mighty, and every one, bond and free, were in the utmost consternation.
But here we find that the Lord stops and draws us aside for a season to show us what His mercy is going to do. "[And] after this I saw four angels … holding the four winds of the earth." They are kept in cheek for the moment. "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 on their foreheads" (verses 2, 3). Some have conceived that the sealing angel is Christ, partly because it is assumed that the work done is communicating the Holy Spirit of promise, the seal of redemption. To me all this is more than doubtful. It is not till we reach the trumpet series that our Lord ever assumes the angelic form and title. Whether we look at the seals, or at the parenthesis between the two last, He is invariably, where the reference is certain, spoken of as the Lamb. Again, this angel rises up from the sun-rising. I can readily apply such a movement to angels subject to the Son of man, ascending and descending to do His pleasure. But when the Lord appears in angelic garb, He either ministers as High Priest with the golden censer, or He comes down with unmistakable tokens and proclamation of His dominion and power. In the present scene nothing is said which unequivocally reveals His own glory. Much has been made of the phrase "till we have sealed," as if it corresponded with the allusion to the persons in the Godhead, as in Gen. 1:26. I am surprised that the rest of the sentence was not observed to be incompatible with such a meaning Would Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (which in that case would be the sense) say, "till we have sealed the servants of our God?" The idea seems to me unfounded. Nor even if our Lord exclusively could be imagined so to speak, does it seem to be consistent with His dignity. He teaches His disciples to say "our Father," but does not say it with them. When He does associate them with Himself risen from the dead, it is even then "My Father and your Father, my God and your God" — never "our God."
The meaning then is, that before the various judgments are poured out on creation, God will have appropriated a certain people for Himself. They are sealed with the seal of the living God; that is, a character is put upon them as set apart to God. Cain had a very different mark put upon him by Jehovah; it was to screen him from man's judgment. Here also protection may be involved. At any rate, they are sealed on their foreheads, which, of course, means no physical mark, but God's setting them apart for Himself, and, I suppose, publicly. Who are the sealed ones? A measured remnant from His ancient people.
Thus the angels are seen restraining the judgments that are about to fall on all creation, and we have the seal of God upon a certain chosen number out of Israel. He will have an election from that people, but it will be a personal and individual election — not a merely national one as of old. When David attempted to number the people, it was a presumptuous sin, but here it is the grace of God appropriating a complement of the tribes of Israel to Himself. The number 144,000 is a regular and complete number, though it be a mystical one, as I suppose, with a view to God's use of the favoured nation here below. The number twelve always has a reference to what is perfect for God's accomplishment of His work, administered by man. This may be seen in the twelve tribes of Israel, twelve patriarchs, twelve apostles, and even the twelve gates and twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem. It is a perfect number where human administration comes in. Hence, when the nation of Israel are to be brought in again, it is the multiple of twelve that we have, and this expressed in thousands; the full result, as far as Israel is concerned, of the administration that God will commit to man.
An important question has been raised here, whether the tribes of Israel are to be interpreted literally or mystically. For the latter sense it is argued, that the very first vision of the seven candlesticks, borrowed from the Jewish sanctuary, and the allusions in the seven epistles that follow, but more particularly in Revelation 3:12 compared with Revelation 21:12, sustain the Christian meaning throughout the book. But does not such reasoning overlook the fact that the application of Jewish emblems to the churches, while they are expressly spoken of here below, and of others to the church, either glorified above or following Christ out of heaven in the day of the Lord, is totally distinct horn the question whether certain symbols, taken from Israel, may not also apply to a different class of witnesses on earth between those two points? The real question is about the interval, when churches are no longer spoken of, and before the bride appears with the Bridegroom in glory. To state the question aright is enough to show the inconclusiveness of the argument, as applied (not to Rev. 1, 2, 3, nor in Rev. 21:12, where in the main we all agree, but) to the prophetic visions from Revelation 6 onward.
Besides, it is allowed by the more intelligent of the historical school, that about the close of the age the Jews will be converted and take the lead in the earthly song of praise on the occasion. This may be put too late in the book and founded on the feeble evidence of the occurrence of the Hebrew word "Hallelujah" in Rev. 19:3. Still the fact is admitted — an Apocalyptic prophecy of that which is to happen before the appearing of the Lord. What is more, a large part of the same school,* represented by one of their most popular books, (Bp. Newton's Dissertations on the Prophecies; Works, i. pp. 578, 579,) understand the tribes of Israel to be meant in their natural historical import, and apply the prophecy to the vast influx of converted Jews in the reign of Constantine. In fact the earliest Christian writer who alludes to the chapter, Irenaeus the pious Bishop of Lyons, unhesitatingly solves the omission of Dan so as to prove that he considered the actual tribes of Israel to be meant, So also speaks Victorinus in one passage at least of the earliest extant commentary on the book. Others soon began to veer towards the allegorizing method, till at length the anti-Judaic theory became much the more general view.
*Mr. Birks widely differs from Mr. Elliott, and this too in perhaps the most acrimonious attack ever made on futuro-literalism. Even Mr. B. confesses that "in the abstract, it can neither be unreasonable nor improbable that they should be a direct object of the prophecy, and, since no more appropriate symbol could be found for them, that they should be, so to speak, their own emblem. Those who view the book in general as symbolical may, therefore, without inconsistency, conceive literal Jews to be designed." (Elements of Prophecy, pp. 256, 257, the "masterly work" in which, according to Mr. E., the writer has shown himself the martel and hammer of truth against the reveries of the futurists.)
But it may be well to notice briefly the reasons alleged by one of the ablest advocates of the mystical class — Vitringa. First he argues that if the names were to be taken in the letter, so must the number. But does this follow? And if it were a necessity, what is to hinder? He who reserved 7,000 in Elijah's day may seal 144,000 of Israel in a future epoch. But I see no need for this. The people might be literal, the number symbolical, without difficulty save to one fascinated by the love of excessive simplification. It is not denied that symbols exist, nor that they yield a determinate sense; but to look for a sort of pictorial consistency in all the parts is contrary to the facts everywhere. Moreover what could be the meaning of a mystical Reuben, Gad, Asher, etc.? Nobody that I know pretends to assign a distinctive signification, unless persons in the last degree fanciful. Yet if they are to be so taken, one might expect each to have a meaning, which is looked for in vain in those who plead strenuously for the general idea. Next it is urged that by the sealed must be understood God's elect, who are to be preserved from an otherwise universal calamity; and who can assert these to be Jews only? But who affirms that none are elect save these? We shall see presently that the scope of the prophecy and the connection of the passage intimate the contrary. The false assumption therefore is, not that the sealed thousands are out of the actual tribes of Israel only, but that there will be no other saints than these. Thirdly the omission of Dan seems to be at least as great a difficulty on the mystical as on the literal hypothesis. In the blessing of Moses (Deut. 33) Simeon is left out. Is this list of the tribes, then, to be taken allegorically? Fourthly, the alleged parallel text, Rev. 14:1, by no means proves that the tribes are not literally of Israel. The 144,000 in Rev. 14 are saints on earth, not long before the final catastrophe, and in contrast with those defiled by Babylon and enslaved by the Beast. That they are not the church, but rather a godly remnant of Israelites associated in the Spirit's mind with the suffering but now exalted Christ, is what writers of this stamp have never even fairly weighed, much less have they decided on good grounds one way or the other.
On the other hand, I conceive that the specification of the tribes is inconsistent with any sense but the literal. Then again the contradistinction is as plain and positive as words can make it, between the sealed numbers out of Israel and the innumerable multitude from all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues. So that the mystical theory, when closely examined, cannot escape the charge of absurdity; for it identifies the sealed Israelites with the palm-bearing Gentiles, spite of the evident and express contrast on the face of the chapter. This results from trying to make out that the Gentile crowd consists of all the aggregated generations of the elect from the tribes. As to the sealed ones, not a hint appears of a succession: indeed the command to suspend the action of the four winds till after the sealing implies the contrary. It was a precise limited hour, as it was a special class. But what clenches the matter is that the palm-bearing Gentiles (i.e., according to some, the Christian church in its heavenly completeness) are all described as coming out of the great tribulation - a tribulation which even they view as following the days of Constantine. Thus all seems to me strong and conclusive that the sealed here are literal Israelites — not only of Israel, but Israel, the Israel of God; as the mystical reading of the first part of the chapter, with the literal understanding of the rest, involves its advocates in consequences the more gross where it is most systematically pursued.
With regard to the tribes mentioned, there is a certain peculiarity on which I can say little. There are the sons of the various wives of Jacob: first, the two sons of Leah, Judah and Reuben; then of Zilpah, Leah's maid, Gad and Asher; then Naphtali, the son of the maid Bilhah, and instead of Dan her other son, Manasseh (Joseph's firstborn) is substituted. Then there are the four sons of Leah, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, and Zebulun; and finally, the sons of Rachel, Joseph, and Benjamin. Clearly we have the sons arranged according to the different mothers, the offspring of the bondwomen being intermingled with that of the free. Dan, who had been the most conspicuous for idolatry, is left out, and instead of Ephraim, the younger son of Joseph, Joseph himself appears. We find here the sealed of Israel, but the tribes numbered and arranged in a singular manner. They are no longer merely taken up in a natural way according to the order of birth, but God seems to intimate that He would make them a spiritual people also, stamped with His seal. They will then be Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile. Nor is Dan at last disinherited. (Ezek. 48:1, 32.)
Nor this only; God is also going to save a multitude of Gentiles, and here no numbering appears. This is a most refreshing thought from its largeness. For though from them God is now gathering a people to His name, yet when we think of the multitudes that are immersed in darkness, of the myriads on myriads of men in heathen countries, of a handful — yea, perhaps but one — among them here and there having the knowledge of God, it is an afflicting and humbling reflection. But is it not remarkable that when God is to show us the increasing wickedness of both Jew and Gentile, and when His judgments are about to fall, we find there is this multitude of Israel numbered with the greatest care, and God not forgetful of the poor Gentiles? They may not be put in the same high place as the Jews, yet God will bless them wonderfully notwithstanding. But the prophet, who had just known the election of Israel sealed and had heard the number of them, has to turn to one of the elders in order to learn who the countless company are. They were to John a new unknown crowd among the blessed. If they were sealed on their foreheads, is it reasonable that they should just after seem so strange?
The multitude spoken of here is distinct from, if not in contrast with, the church; and it is thus that we ascertain it clearly. The elders represent the heavenly saints as the heads of priesthood. Now God might use two different symbols to mean the same body; as, for instance, the wise virgins and the good and faithful servants in Matt. 25 are successive representatives of the heavenly saints. But here we have the Gentile multitude and the elders given as distinct parties in the same scene. Again you have the elders doing one thing and the multitude doing another. Above all, note that the way in which God speaks of this multitude totally separates them both from the church of God and from the Old Testament saints. This cannot be so clearly seen in our authorized translation, but the right version in verse 14 is this: "These are they which come out of the great tribulation." One could understand of course that as a figure the whole of this dispensation might be called a time of tribulation, or even of great tribulation. But here it is not merely said, "These are, they which came out of great tribulation," but "out of the great tribulation." It is not possible to make "the great tribulation" extend over all the time between the first and second comings of Christ. Even the vague Protestant interpreters make it specific, but apply it, as is natural in them, to the fierce persecutions of the Papacy — "the great predicted tribulation of the coming apostacy and Antichrist." The phrase means a special time of trouble, and we gather from elsewhere that it is yet to come; and it is exactly this time that the central part of the Revelation includes, and chiefly covers. In the epistle to Thyatira it was said, "Behold I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds." May we not judge that the threat of this great tribulation is to be fulfilled now. The scene of the church is closed, the great tribulation comes on apace, and those who had professed Christianity but who had gone back into idolatry would be cast into it with others. Thus, what God shows us here is a multitude of saved Gentiles: not the Jews, for we have had them just before; and not Christians, for these will then be in heaven. Those are a Gentile body called after the church is taken up; they are to be in the great tribulation but shall be preserved through it.
We shall find the great tribulation spoken of in several parts of the word of God. In Jeremiah it is named in connection with the Jews. (Jer. 30:7.) "Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it; it is even the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it." There is to be a time of excessive anguish, which closes with the day of the Lord, and Jacob is to be saved out of it; so that there you have the Jew in trouble, and the Jew delivered out of it. But in Daniel it is still more explicit. (Dan. 12.) The angel speaks of Daniel's own people, the Jews. "At that time … there shall be 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." This is "the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it." It is evidently the plain counterpart of the words of Jeremiah; and it warrants the inference that there is to be a future "time of trouble, such as never was" — the immediate precursor of deliverance for Jacob's people as spoken of in these prophecies.
In Matthew 24 the Lord Himself refers to it: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." There again we have the same time, the Lord quoting the very passage of Daniel just cited. It is quite plain that He is speaking only of Jews, because they are supposed to be connected with the temple, and they are told to pray that their flight be not on the sabbath day, in which case they could not go beyond a sabbath day's journey, nor in winter. In either case there would be a hindrance to their flight, whether on God's part, or in the circumstances of the season. We have the same thing referred to in Mark, but Luke seems to speak in a more general way.
What parties then are to be in the scene of the tribulation? First a Jewish one spoken of in the Prophets and the Gospels, the object of God's care, who will deal tenderly with a remnant of Israel, and deliver them out of their distresses. Then in Rev. 7:9 we hear of a Gentile multitude. But neither party is the church.
Never have we God dealing thus with the Jew and with the Gentile as such, and forming the church at the same time; for then God would have at least two, if not three, objects — not various only but opposed objects — of special affection on the earth at the same time, with quite different modes and aims of action.
Suppose there were two persons, whom the Lord was bringing near to Himself. If He were dealing with the Jew, He would have acknowledged an earthly temple, priesthood, and worship. The Lord Jesus recognised the Jews as such when He was on earth, and in a still more blessed way He will do so in the day that is coming. But as long as the Lord is occupied with forming the church, Jewish order ceases to have any claim. Thus then suppose that God were blessing the Jews as Jews, and at the same time forming the church on earth, if two persons were converted, the one might say, I must still have my priest and go to the temple; while another would exclaim, There is no priest but Christ, and the temple is in heaven. See the confusion that would spring from God's owning an earthly and a heavenly people at the same time here below.
In this time of tribulation, when the Lord will recognize the Jew (or the godly remnant) to a certain extent, the church will not be in the scene. The objects of deliverance will be elect Jews and elect Gentiles, each distinct from the other, and not the church of God, where both are united and all distinctions disappear. We have seen direct proof of the removal of the church in Rev. 4 and 5. Here there is indirect evidence, because we have Jews sealed and Gentiles saved, and the latter expressly distinguished from the elders or heavenly saints. The sealing of the Jews included the election from the whole twelve tribes of Israel, except where there was a special brand of evil, as in the case of Dan. But the moment we find the Jew, we have God looking also, though separately, at the nations; because, having once visited the Gentile with His mercy, He will never take it back. Thus, when here He speaks of mercy to a complement of Israel, there is also salvation to a multitude out of every nation and kindred and people and tongue.
We saw that if the guilty Christian professors went on in their sin with Jezebel, they would be given up, and would be left to go through great tribulation. Here we find the great tribulation come; and not only are Israelites sealed, but a multitude of Gentiles are delivered out of it. The Old Testament does not speak of Gentiles being delivered thence, but Jews. Meantime, God has been sending salvation to the Gentiles. Hence in the New Testament prophecy Gentile deliverance is as prominent as Jewish deliverance is in the Old Testament. God shows that, in the last days, He is going to save a vast throng of Gentiles. But will it be so in these countries where the light of the gospel has shone and has been despised? "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 believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thess. 2:10-12.) God will visit those who have not enjoyed this testimony, the external peoples who have not had Christ rightly presented to them. The church has completely failed in what God looks for from us. He called on the church to take up the cross and to follow Christ; but the church has, in practice, given up the cross and followed the world. All this has hardened the heathen, who find that the church does not bring forth the fruits that are suitable to the grace and truth which we profess to have found in Christ. But God, in His fulness of mercy, will go to those outside. Thus I believe that these very countries which have set themselves up as the centre from whence the light emanates will then be in antichristian idolatry, while those which have been in darkness will come out into light. It will only be the tale of Galilee of the nations again, when Jerusalem despised and lost the Son of God — alas! how long.
Here we see the blessed result. There will be this innumerable multitude of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, who stand before the throne* and before the Lamb. Theirs are the robes of righteousness,† and their palms are the palms of victory; but they do not sing the new song. There is nothing like the high and exulting tone of Rev. 5, no intercession for others, nay, not a word of being made kings and priests to God. They cry with a loud voice, "Salvation unto our God who sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb." They are saved persons, but the ascription is limited to the title that He takes upon the throne and to the Lamb. God is not now sitting upon the throne that is described here: at least it is not thus He reveals Himself while the church is on earth. He will by and by take His place there as One issuing judgments; and the great point seems to be, that although it is a time of preparatory wrath and judicial action, yet God is showing signal mercy, even to Gentiles. In verse 13, we have the elders looking upon the scene. How could they be looking upon themselves? Yet this must be the case, if the elders and the innumerable multitude are both supposed to set forth the church. We have two distinct parties. If the elders are the church, the multitude is not; and if the multitude is, then the elders cannot be. I well understand a man having a picture taken of himself in one suit of clothing at one time and in a different suit at another. But we could not possibly have a portrait of a man taken at the same moment with two different sets of robes upon him, so as to display distinct characters, and fulfil opposite functions together.
*John's vision of them there does not imply that they are to be in heaven, rather than on the earth, when the kingdom comes. "Before the throne and before the Lamb" is moral rather than local. (Compare Rev. 12:1; Rev. 14:3.) It merely expresses where the prophet beholds them in the mind of God. The description with which the chapter closes conveys the idea of people delivered from bitter sorrow, and sheltered for ever. No doubt this will be inexpressible comfort to them: but nothing they say rises to the height of the joy and intelligence which are seen in the elders, nor is anything said of them which at all sets them on equal ground with these. They are never presented with crowns nor seated on thrones like the twenty-four. They are in relationship with God when He is no longer viewed as seated on a throne of grace such as we know now, but as on a throne whence judgments proceed. All harmonizes with the interval of introductory government which precedes the millennium.
† It has been sought to draw out the contrast between these Gentiles in Rev. 7 and our own position in Rev. 1:5-6, by dwelling on the different statements, that they washed their robes, and that He washed us. But such comparisons often lead to grave misconception, as indeed this has done. I wish, therefore, explicitly to state my own conviction (in which, doubtless, the writer referred to would cordially join), that the salvation of all the saved at all times depends on the work of Christ, and that the Spirit is the only efficacious applier of it to any soul. The real question is as to the various dealings of God and His sovereign arrangements among the saved. Scripture, in my opinion, is quite clear as to all this, if men would but give up preconceived notions and wait on God for the answer.
In the church of God which is being called now there is neither Jew nor Gentile. The moment you find the distinction kept up between them, there cannot be the church. Whenever you separate the Jew from the Gentile, you are off church-ground. Before the death and resurrection of Christ, God was not forming Jew and Gentile into one body. Thus, even when the Lord Jesus was upon earth, He forbade His disciples to go to the Gentiles, or so much as enter the Samaritan cities. But when He, the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, was about to form the church, He charged them to go everywhere and preach the gospel to every creature, instead of merely seeking out him that was worthy in Israel. Thus, a complete change was evinced in the ways of God, not as if He knew not the end from the beginning, but with a view to fresh displays of His glory in His Son. So too when the present calling closes, His mercy will flow out in fresh channels, as we have seen.
I trust, then, it has been shown plainly that the subject of this chapter is not the church, but Israel and the Gentiles blessed as such. Indeed, one need not hesitate to say that, if any person supposed Rev. 7 treated of the church, it would argue that he had no true idea of its nature and calling — that he had no conception of what the Holy Ghost connects with the body of Christ here below.* The church of God is essentially a heavenly body that entirely sets aside all distinction of Jew and Gentile. The scope, if not object, of this chapter shows that these distinctions reappear at the time that is referred to. We have first a company of Israel, then an innumerable crowd out of the Gentiles. Besides these, that class of the redeemed formed out of the Jews and Gentiles, and long familiar to us in this book (namely, the crowned elders), are seen as a distinct body altogether.
*The following extract from Dr. John Owen's Prelim. Dissert. to his Comment on the Hebrews (Exer. vi.) is endorsed with strong commendation by a living Professor of Theology, and may serve as evidence of the darkness that reigns on the subject. "At the coming of the Messiah, there was not one church taken away, and another set up in its room; but the church continued the same, in those that were the children of Abraham according to the faith. The Christian church is not another church, but the very same that was before the coming of Christ, having the same faith with it, and interested in the same covenant. The olive tree was the same; only some branches were broken and others grafted into it: the Jews fell, and the Gentiles came in their room. And this doth and must determine the difference between the Jews and Christians about the promises of the Old Testament. They are all made unto the church. No individual hath any interest in them, but by virtue of his membership with the church. This church is, and always was, one and the same. With whomsoever it remains, the promises are theirs; and that, not by application or analogy, but directly and properly. They belong as immediately at this day, either to Jews (?) or Christians, as they did of old to any. The question is with whom is this church which is founded on the promised seed in the covenant? for where it is, there is Zion, Jerusalem, Israel, Jacob, the temple of God." There is not a clause that is not an error; for even where there is a certain substratum of truth, the use is fallacious. The Judaising of the church on this scheme is complete. The truth is that Dr. O. confounds the calling of the church, according to the mystery hid from ages and generations, with the earthly order in which the promises are administered. Thus the doctrine of Ephesians, Colossians, and other such scriptures, is left out and unknown; that is, the doctrine of a body united to Christ its glorified head, and manifested on earth by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Such a state of things did not exist before Christ's first advent, nor can it be after His second. As to the inheritance of the promises, we share this with the saints of old; but it is not our peculiar place of blessing. The church, as such, is quite a distinct thing, though the members of it are, with others, heirs through Christ. So with the olive tree; doubtless the Gentiles are now grafted in: but is it possible a spiritual man could confound this with the body of Christ? The Jews were natural branches, the olive was their own olive tree: even the unbelieving branches formed part of it, though at length broken off to let Gentiles in. Does one word of this bring out the church as shown in Eph. 1, 2? Is not all above nature here? In that one body, it is not Jews making way for Gentiles, but the believers, whether Jew or Gentile, brought out of their old previous condition, reconciled in one by the cross, and builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. All this is neutralised by Dr. Owen's theory. At least, as regards the future, Mr. Elliott renounces it. "The church of the firstborn, the bride, may be complete; but it does not follow that none afterwards can be saved. What is said of the kings of the earth, walking in the light of the heavenly Jerusalem, seems to me to imply an enjoyment of the blessing by other parties, besides those that constitute Christ's bride, the New Jerusalem. The very statement of Christ's being a priest upon His throne (if applicable, all I think it is, to the millennia] era) implies Christ's still exercising His intercessory and other priestly functions. And it I am correct in my view of John 17:21, 23, it was a marked point in His earliest intercessory prayer that the world's believing on Him generally might be the result of the distinctive manifestation in glory of the church of His disciples of the present dispensation; — that manifestation which, as all agree, will be only at His second coming." (H. A., iv. p. 187.) Every one must allow that in the millennium the olive tree will flourish more than ever, and the Abrahamic promises be fulfilled to the letter. If then the church, Christ's bride, is distinct from the millennial saints, albeit these last inherit the promises and are branches in the olive tree, the principle is evidently given up. The same thing, then, may be true of the Old Testament saints. It becomes a question of the testimony of scripture. Now this, we have seen, pronounces clearly that the church of God, Christ's body, depends on the gift and presence of the Holy Ghost, consequent on the death, resurrection, and glorification of the Saviour. (Matt. 16:18; John 7:39; John 14-16; Acts 1, 2; 1 Cor. 12, etc.)
Thus we have in this chapter "the Jew, the Gentile, and the church of God" — sealed Jews and saved Gentiles, for the earth, as I suppose, and the church with the Old Testament saints preserved for heavenly glory. While the elect of the twelve tribes are said to have great mercy shown them, and the Gentiles too, who might have been thought to be forgotten then (ver. 14-17), yet it is not the same exalted privilege that we shall enjoy. "They" (i.e., these spared Gentiles) "serve day and night in his temple." But when the Holy Ghost is showing us our special place of blessing, the prophet says, "I saw no temple therein." In Revelation 21, where he describes the bride or the heavenly Jerusalem, it is a state of things totally different from what we have here. Though it be the city where you might above all expect to find a sanctuary, he says, "I saw no temple therein." Why is this? Because that city is the symbol of the bride, and when God brings out the blessedness and glory of the church, He speaks of it as drawing near to Himself, so that there shall be none but Christ between Him and them, if we can call that between, where Christ Himself is the image of the invisible God, the One who reveals God to us and who is God. It excludes the idea of the temple. Here, on the contrary, we have the temple. One of their greatest privileges spoken of is that they serve Him day and night in His temple, and "He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell again among them." There might seem to be a difficulty in this, but there really is a careful guard against the thought that might be drawn from the words "dwell among them." The true meaning is, God having His tabernacle over them, not among them. In Rev. 21 we find God dwelling among men. It is not the same phrase at all. Similar in English, it is totally different in the Greek. In Revelation 7 the idea is that the presence of God overshadows the Gentiles, but there is no such thing intended as God's taking His place among them. They are blessed of God, overshadowed and protected as Israel of old under the cloud of His presence. Like them too in the future (Isa. 49), they shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the sun nor heat smite them; blessed expressions, but rather conveying an earthly position than a heavenly one. We have the Lamb Himself to feed us now. Even here He gives us to have in us wells of water springing up into everlasting life, and out of us flow rivers of living water.
I have been endeavouring to prove, then, that God's purposes are not limited by what He is doing now. Besides forming the heavenly body, the church, and conferring upon it the highest privileges even He can give, God is going to visit the Gentiles by and by. They will be remembered; and this will be done in the midst of the most appalling judgments which precede the great day. And God makes plain our own position amidst it all; for we see the elders distinct, and they have the mind of Christ. This last is the portion of the church even on earth, just as Joseph was in his time the depositary of God's wisdom. Whether in prison or out of prison, he entered into the thoughts of God and was able to explain them to others. This is the place that God's goodness puts us in, alas! how little it is prized or acted on. It is one of the most precious privileges that belongs to the church of God, save the position in which God sets us as brought nigh in Christ to Himself. There ought to be the power of announcing the revealed thoughts of God by the Holy Ghost.
To me it is manifest that the seventh seal is followed by a short but solemn pause, which again is introductory to a new course of divine inflictions.* "And when he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God; and to them were given seven trumpets." Now these judgments that come before us under the trumpets are of a somewhat different character from what we have seen in the seals. In the first place, the seals in general appear to have a larger extent, but the blows were not so severe. It is true we had in Rev. 6:8 a certain limitation (viz. the fourth part), used with regard to the extent of the blow then to be struck. But in the other instances there was no such restraint; whereas in most of the trumpets it is the third part, with some slight exceptions. The trumpets, then, may be less extensive in their range, but it will by and by appear that they are more intensely judicial than the seals.
*Strange as it may seem that so simple a matter should give rise to long doubt and interminable discussion, such is the fact. Perhaps the earliest interpretation on record, that of Victorinus (a martyr in Diocletian's persecution) applies the half-hour's silence to the beginning of eternal rest. And this remains the resource still of most who understand the seven seals to embrace the outline of events in providence, down to the second advent of the Lord, save that some would rather style the seventh seal a pause at His return. It is plain that the view rests mainly upon the assumption that the sixth seal introduced the day of the Lord, with its dependent sealing and palm-bearing visions representing the consummated glory of the blessed. Nobody can conceive that silence in heaven for half-an-hour would have been so viewed, unless the seal before had necessitated to their minds some such reference. And yet it is evidently unnatural; for if we had the rest, be it millennial or eternal, described fully in the close of Revelation 7, why did it need a fresh seal to inaugurate or continue it in the commencement of Revelation 8? And with what propriety, either as to time or character, is it conveyed in the seventh seal? This has led others to adopt the still stranger idea that the sixth seal closes the sequence of events, the seventh being merely indicative of a separation between this series and the parallel one of the trumpets. And the very curious circumstance is, that some who receive this anomalous arrangement have persuaded themselves that theirs is the only perfect clue to the order of the book, whereas it is nothing but hopeless confusion. That I may not be charged with injustice, let me give the following statement from Three Letters on the Prophecies, pp. 2, 3, by J. H. Frere, reprinted in 1859. "Every commentator who has hitherto written on the Apocalypse, by erroneously understanding the mention of the seventh seal having been opened, which occurs at Revelation 8:1, to be an introduction of the events of that seal, has committed the greatest possible chronological error: embracing in the midst of the seals, and therefore amidst the events of time, the eternal state of the glorified church, represented by the vision of the palm-bearing multitude before the throne, of the preceding chapter (Rev. 7:9-17): so that no chronological arrangement of the Apocalypse has as yet even been proposed, seeing that eternity has thus been universally introduced between the sixth and seventh seals. The Apocalypse, however, will be found really to consist of these chronological histories, viz., the seven seals, contained in Revelation 6 and 7, concluding with the vision of the eternal state; the seven trumpets, consisting of Revelation 8 to 10:7, concluding (like the prophecy of Daniel, Revelation 12:7) with the vision of Christ assuring His church, by the solemnity of an oath, that he regards their sufferings and sets bounds to their duration; and the little opened book (Rev. 10:8 to 14.) concluding with the great judgment of the treading of the wine-press of Armageddon." It is manifest that this unheard of and systematic disorder is due to the great primary error that Rev. 6:17 is a prophecy of the wrath of the Lamb, instead of being the predicted expression of men's apprehension at that early epoch of judgment. The seventh seal is rendered meaningless, the sixth seal being virtually made the seventh, and the contents of it and of the parenthetical Revelation 7 entirely misunderstood. Equally are the trumpets mistaken. They do not conclude with Christ's oath, any more than the preceding series concluded with the vision of the eternal state. Neither does the little open book conclude with Armageddon. Like the sealing and palm-bearing visions, it is a parenthesis revealed within the limits of the sixth trumpet, instead of following the seventh trumpet. The reader will, therefore, see the immense importance of steadily resisting the too common error as to the sixth seal, and will understand why I have rum the risk of repeating its confutation too frequently.
Further, we find that the very name indicates a difference. The trumpet sets forth a loud and solemn call of God. It is God summoning men; for if they have rejected His grace, they must hear, even if they forget, these sharp warnings of His judgment. The seals might not so readily have been regarded as divine interferences, unless God had beforehand told us that such they were, with their nature and their order. In themselves, and especially in the first four, they ushered in disastrous but not unprecedented occurrences. But when we come to the trumpets it is not so requisite to announce that they are heaven-sent judgments. Their sound or summons is quite plain and urgent. They appeal far more unmistakably to men.
But there is another remarkable difference and of a more spiritual nature. The Lamb disappears under these new scenes. The Lord Jesus is not spoken of in that point of view while these destructive judgments run their course. This supposes and marks a great change, and we have to enquire what God would have us to gather from it. If the Lord Jesus is introduced at all, it is in another guise or aspect, and not as the Lamb. It is not the Lamb that takes the golden censer, but an angel. I do not deny that Christ is referred to, but it. is in His angelic connection or at least in an angelic form. He is presented in a more distant way than ever the church or the Christian, as such, knows Him in. In Heb. 2 we find that the Holy Ghost reasons upon the fact of Christ's having taken the place of man. "For verily he took not on him [the nature of] angels," etc. In our version the expression is too strong and the italics a mistake. The meaning is that He did not take up the angels: they were not the object of God's calling nor of His redemption. Jesus took hold of the seed of Abraham (as it is given correctly in the margin), and because of this, "Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same." He did not undertake the cause of angels. He stands in no such relationship towards them. Still there is nothing, as it seems to me, to contradict the idea that the Lord Jesus may be and is intended in Revelation 8 as the officiating angel at the altar; for indeed He is the Head of everything, the head of all principality and power. Why, then, might He not be viewed here in exalted, angelic glory? The personage spoken of acts as the angel-priest. Undoubtedly it is not thus that He has to do with the heavenly saints, and that He ministers before God for us. But then the Lord at the point of time to which we are come in the prophecy, has entirely done with His ministration for the partakers of the heavenly calling, at least so far as provision for their failure is concerned; but we learn His interest in another class of saints — in "all the saints" of course — who will be upon the earth when the church has been taken up to heaven.
There is less introduction here of the suffering saints of God than anywhere else. The judgments fall almost entirely upon the world, upon men in their circumstances and persons, and finally upon men in their responsible relationship to God. Outwardly the saints would seem to be mixed up with them. This accounts for the absence of the Lamb; for wherever He appears as such in the book of the Revelation, it is Christ in His character of the holy and earth-rejected sufferer. Accordingly, the Lamb is peculiarly brought out where there are sufferers mentioned. For that word remains always true, that "when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them." He never puts them in a path of which He has not tasted the bitterest sorrow before them. Here He retires, as it were, and is only seen in comparatively distant, angelic glory.
Remark also how full of symbols the chapter is, and, from the first trumpet, of how external a kind. Everywhere mysteriousness prevails. It is not God opening out His heart of complacency in those He loves. Whenever this is the subject. He speaks as it were face to face. He is simple and explicit. Without leaving this book, take for instance Rev. 14. There He is going to speak of persons who were, or were to be, exposed to all sorts of trials, because of association with Jesus; and the first thing that we see on the mount Sion is the Lamb, and the portion of the wicked follows in the most distinct manner. So again in Rev. 12 "they overcame him [the dragon-accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto death." But here we have God's dealings with the world, and the scantiest notice of His own people as separate class; and as the world has no claim on God, whatever His mercy to it, as the world has no tie with Him and only despises His love, so God speaks but of His earthly judgments in forms more and more awful. He does not bring persons so distinctly forward as in other scenes; and thus, as I conceive, even the person of the Lord Jesus is therefore not set forth evidently. For here, as elsewhere, we find that there is the most surprising harmony governing all scripture, when once the key to it. is seen.
First of all there are the angels standing before God, and they take their trumpets, the seventh seal being a sort of preparation, or a signal, for a renewed course and another class of judgment. But before this begins we have an angel-priest. There are those to whom God is faithful, for His eyes are over the righteous, and His ears open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. Though there may be but a passing glimpse at the saints, yet God would never have us to forget that even at this time there are objects of His care on the earth.
"And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given him much incense." Wherever the altar occurs without qualification, it invariably means, I believe, the brazen altar — the first means or point of contact between God and men on earth. There the holocaust was burnt, and the other offerings of sweet savour; thence was the fire taken, in order to cause the incense to ascend from its appropriate altar in the holy place. And this, as it flows from or agrees with the rest of scripture, so it is in perfect accord with its uses in the Revelation (Rev. 6:9; Rev. 11:1; Rev. 14:18; Rev. 16:7). Where the altar of incense is in question, it is characterized as "the golden altar" before the throne, or before God (Rev. 8:3; Rev. 9:13). Both are referred to here. Had the same altar been intended in the beginning as in the end of verse 3, the full description would surely have been furnished at the first mention rather than at the second. Nor is there more difficulty as to seeing the great altar in the heavenly vision here, than the sea or laver in Rev. 4; for according to the Jewish type they were equally in the court. At this altar then which connected the fire with the offering and acceptance of Christ, the angel stood with the golden censer pertaining to the holy of holies. The very phrase conveys to my mind that it was not his usual place: he came and stood there. In the authorised version it is said of the incense "that he should offer it with the prayers," etc. But if we take the phrase as it is given in Rev. 11, the sense becomes plainer and more just. There we read (ver. 3), "I will give power unto my two witnesses." Now it is exactly the same form of expression here, and means that He should give power to the prayers or render them efficacious. "And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints ascended up before God," etc. (verse 4.) What is the effect of the prayers and the incense? All would feel that the Holy Ghost does not lead persons to pray for what is contrary to the mind of God, though when a mistaken prayer is offered, He will listen in His long-suffering, and knows how to teach His children the foolishness of such requests. But none can say that the Holy Ghost ever suggested or sustained a prayer which was not according to God's purpose. Observe also that incense out of the angel's hand accompanies these prayers of the saints, and they are offered up to God.
But the fifth verse records a new action: "And the angel took the censer and filled it with fire of the altar." Surely this is the brazen altar, where not the incense but the fire was burning. The result is, not the efficacy of Christ's work comes up before God in more and more sweetness (as we see in the case of the offerings put on the brazen altar in Leviticus), but that here the fire was cast into the earth, and immediately followed "thunderings, and lightnings, and voices, and an earthquake." So that thus we find evidently prayer of another character and with a different effect produced — nay, the very priest himself viewed in another manner, as compared with what is going on now. For us Jesus the Son of God has passed through the heavens, a High Priest who was in all points tempted like us, apart from sin. He died for our sins, He can sympathize with our infirmities, having suffered to the utmost both in temptation and atonement. Our God also is on a throne of grace, whence mercy and grace come forth to help in time of need. (Heb. 4.) Again, our attitude towards those without is akin; and hence supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, are and ought to be made for all men.
But here is not mercy but judgment; for though there may be the incense and the prayers of saints, the immediate issue is that the symbols of God's judgments are seen taking effect through the earth. There is perfect congruity in all the scenes that are portrayed here. Although a priest, and saints, and an altar (both altars, as it seems to me), and incense, and the censer, and the fire are all found in due order, yet it is in communion with God chastising the earth: hence too the place of comparative distance already noticed. If the Lord is brought out at all, it is as an angel and not in His full dignity as the Son of God consecrated for evermore. Of course He is always the Son of God, but He has other dignities beside, and here the prophetic vision presents Him in a totally different title and glory.
Again does it not seem an unintelligent inference, be it made by Historicalist or by Futurist, that "all the saints" is a phrase which necessarily involves the conclusion that the church of God is meant? The question must be judged by the convictions we have as to the bearing of all this part of the book. And it has been abundantly shown that, ever since Revelation 4 began, the church is viewed as already and wholly glorified in heaven. Hence the church is really out of the question here, and these are all the saints on earth subsequently for whom deliverance is prepared. The angel offers their prayers, and judgment on earth for their deliverance is the reply. The ordinary reasoning is therefore beside the mark. All the saints are of course the Lord's people — a converted class, Jewish or Gentile. That this is what scripture calls christians or the church is another matter, which the objectors would do well to inquire into.
"And the seven angels that had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. And the first sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood," etc. The general bearing of this is apparent. These things are not to be taken in their mere obvious or physical drift. Supposing one looks at such a thing literally as a mountain falling into the sea (verse 8), would it ever turn the water into blood? Nothing of the sort. The fact is that these were pictures that passed before the eyes of the prophet. What the figures meant we have to gather from the general tenor of the word, by the teaching of the Spirit, I presume that even the prophet himself had to learn their meaning from the scriptures. For here we have St. John, not in the place of one before whom all was naked and open and at once understood, but rather simply as a Seer. He is not necessarily able, as a matter of course, to enter fully into all that is passing before him, but has need to mark, learn, and inwardly digest. We come in the Apocalypse to the ground of prophecy, and this is a different region from that in which the Holy Ghost opens out to us the things of Christ in the way of communion. Indeed what is told us of the prophet John himself throughout the book shows that he did not always nor of necessity appreciate the meaning of that which he beheld in the Spirit. In other words he saw a sort of panorama, and recorded the visions just as they appeared to himself; and we have to use the word of God by the Spirit to know what the symbols imply. We are not to suppose that the event itself will be a mere formal repetition of what the prefiguration was, but a reality answering to the foreseen shadow.*
*The excessive fancifulness and uncertainty of the schemes of interpreting the trumpets, especially of those who deny that they follow the seals and attempt to deduce a stream parallel to them, may be gleaned from the subjoined sketch drawn up by one of the ablest of themselves. "It will be enough to select nine or ten commentators, of considerable eminence and reputation, that the diversity of their views, in detail, may be seen; while there is uniform agreement in the main idea, that these trumpets denote political judgments which fell in the early ages on the Roman empire. Let us compare Mede, Cressener, Sir Isaac Newton, Whiston, and Lowman; and of living authors, Mr. Faber, Mr. Cuninghame, Mr. Frere, and Dr. Keith, with the last of whom Mr. Elliott nearly agrees in the arrangement of this part of the prophecy. The first trumpet begins, according to Lowman, in the time of Constantine; according to Mr. Cuninghame and Mr. Frere, with the death of Valentinian, A.D. 376, and ends with the death of Theodosius, A.D. 395. But Mede, Newton, Dr. Keith, and Mr. Elliott, make it begin with the death of Theodosius, and reach to the death of Alaric, A.D. 410. Cressener and Whiston include in it both periods. Mr. Faber agrees with Mode and Newton in its commencement, but continues it forty years after Alaric's death, A.D. 395-450. The second, according to Lowman, Mr. Cuninghame, and Mr. Frere, reaches from Theodosius to Alaric, the exact interval which Mede, Newton, Dr. Keith, and Mr. Elliott assign to the first. Mede refers it to the fall of the Roman sovereignty, A.D. 410-455; Cressener, to the Transalpine invasions, A.D. 410-448; Sir Isaac Newton, to the Visigoths and Vandals, 407-427; Whiston, Mr. Faber, and Dr. Keith, to the Vandals only, but within different limits, A.D. 407-460, 439-417, and 429-477 respectively. The third trumpet by Sir Isaac Newton is applied to the Vandals, A.D. 427-430; by Whiston, Mr. Cuninghame, and Dr. Keith, to Attila and the Huns, A.D. 441-452; by Mede, Cressener, and Lowman, to the troubles of Italy, or setting of the Western Caesar, A.D. 450-476; by Mr. Faber, to the same, within narrow limits, A.D. 462-476; and by Mr. Frere, to the Nestorian heresy. Lastly, the fourth is referred by Mr. Cuninghame to the fall of the empire, A.D. 455-476; by Whiston, to the extinction itself, A.D. 476; by Mede, Cressener, Lowman, and Dr. Keith, to the subsequent eclipse of Rome, A.D. 476-540; by Sir Isaac Newton, to the wars of Beliarius, A.D. 535-552; by Mr. Faber and Mr. Frere, to the reign of Phocas and the Persian invasion of the East, A.D. 602-610. The remark of Mr. Faber on these differences, in earlier writers, is very natural and just. 'While they agree that the downfall of the Roman power in the West is at least the most prominent object of the prophecy, scarcely any two expositors concur as to the division of that subject among the several trumpets, that are supposed to relate to it. The general result brought out is the subversion of the Western empire, but the particular steps are as multifarious and discordant as can well be imagined. So curious a circumstance may well be deemed the opprobrium of Apocalyptic interpretation, and may naturally lead us to suspect that the true key to the distinct application of the four first trumpets has never yet been found, or, if found, has never yet been satisfactorily used.' The natural inference from this strange variety of opinion among the best expositors is, that the historical divisions they have adopted or assumed are dim and vague, when compared with the distinctness of the emblems in the four trumpets.' — Birks' Mystery of Providence, pp. 103, 104. I must add, however, that few have exceeded Mr. B. in the loose rein he has allowed himself in applying this chapter. Verses 2-4 are called the season of intercession, and are applied to the time from Nerva till after Aurelius (A.D. 86-180) — why then, more than at any other epoch, does not clearly appear. Then verses 5, 6, are the warning and preparation (A.D. 181-248); next, verse 7, the first trumpet (A.D. 250-268), with an imaginary pause of judgment (A.D. 270-365); verses 8, 9, the second (A.D. 365-476); verses 10, 11, the third (A.D. 431-565); verse 12, the fourth (A.D. 540-622). Verse 13 might be thought to denote at least as much as the invisible pause of judgment between verses 7 and 8, but it is passed by without any chronological notice. Indeed, the first woe is made to trench even upon the fourth trumpet, being dated A.D. 609-1063, as the second A.D. 1037-1453. But I have reason to believe the author has abandoned it, and now in the main coalesces with Mr. Elliott.
Thus, when the first blast is sounded, there comes a violent tempest of hail and fire mingled with blood — the blood distinguishing it from all previous storms, as being beyond nature. This betokened or ushered in a furious, sanguinary, and destructive outburst that would agitate and rage over its sphere. "And the third* of the earth was burnt up, and the third of the trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up" (verse 7). This evidently does not refer to the literal earth, trees, or herbage. In scripture grass is the symbol commonly used to denote man in his weakness, his very glory being like the flower of grass. Human prosperity then would be set forth by green grass. Here we have a judgment of God upon it. Not a certain part only, however large, but the whole of it is destroyed. The trees represent such as are high and exalted among men. It is a very common symbol in the word of God to express those that are deeply rooted, with a lofty bearing and extensive influence here below. (Look for instance at Ezek. 31:3; Dan. 4, etc.) Thus, then, a blow is struck at a defined part of the scene of God's moral dealings; and both the low universally, and the higher classes to a large extent, feel the ruinous effects.
*"The third" is an expression often occurring in the first four trumpets. It refers, as I conceive, to the Western part of the Roman empire. In Revelation 9 we find it again in a different connection where it must be modified in meaning; for there can be no doubt, I think, that the first two woe-trumpets (whatever may be thought of the last) find their local application in the East. In fact, this is so clear that one writer of our day would rule the use of the phrase in Revelation 8 by its undoubted oriental (or, as he perhaps would can it, Greek) reference in the following chapter. But this is obviously illegitimate, and the ordinal allusion to the third emblem of Daniel is an error. In itself "the third" defines nothing, save that there is a tri-partite division. It is equally applicable to any of the three parts: to ascertain which particularly is meant we must take the context into account.
The second blow supposes a great change; it falls on the sea, and so refers not to that sphere which is under special and settled government, but to what is or will then be in a state of confusion and anarchy. The nations which are in this condition do not remain scatheless. "And the second angel sounded: and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea; and the third of the sea became blood; and the third of the creatures which were in the sea, that had life, died; and the third of the ships were destroyed." If Jeremiah be consulted, it will be seen that these things are not explained arbitrarily or out of mere imagination. As this is not so common a judgment, it would seem that God deigns to furnish us with another example; for just where we should be likely to make mistakes, there God comes in with light and instruction. The "mountain burning with fire" represents a system of power, itself under the judgment of God and the occasion of judgment to others. In Jer. 51:25 it is said, "Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the Lord, 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." There we have what answers, in some measure, to what we have here. Babylon, in Jeremiah, was to be "a burnt mountain," hurled down from its place of eminence. Here the mountain is said to be "burning." Babylon was itself to be as a consumed or destroyed mountain. Here the mountain is the means of destroying others, as in the Jewish prophet: "O destroying mountain, saith the Lord, which destroyest all the earth."
A mountain is regularly the symbol of settled and exalted power; but here it is cast into the sea, because it is made the means of judgment to others, and not merely the object of judgment itself. The Lord Jesus Himself uses a part of the figure with regard to Israel. Seeing a fig-tree with nothing but leaves, He pronounced that no fruit should grow, nor man eat of it henceforward for ever. He had come and found no fruit upon it, only abundance of leaves. And presently the fig-tree withered away. Now almost every person who has read the word of God with care has viewed that fig-tree as the symbol of Israel, responsible to bear fruit unto God, but completely failing to do so. The fig-tree was figurative of "that generation," and in connection with this the Lord says to His disciples, "ye shall not only do this … but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done." And so it was done; for no sooner had the apostles' testimony gone out to Israel, and Israel had utterly rejected what the Holy Ghost preached to them therein, than judgment came upon them. It was not merely that they bore no fruit, but there was a positive judgment and an uprooting from where they were. The mountain was cast into the sea; the place and nation of Israel completely disappeared in the mass of the Gentiles. This was much more than their merely ceasing to produce fruit. Their polity was broken up and completely vanished, just as much as a mountain would be that was torn up from its base and cast into the sea.
So here a great power, that seemed to be settled, is removed from its place, and that power is not so much shattered itself as it is made the means of suffering to others. It is burning with fire, and the consequence is destruction to the third of living creatures and ships in the sea, the whole being a figure taken from what would be the effect of a volcano cast into the sea. It is thus that the Lord fills up the picture of destruction by a great consuming power that falls upon confused masses of people, with human carnage and political anarchy as the result. There may be some more precise meaning, but I am only presenting what little I see of the symbols, independent of their application to a particular time, place, or people.
The third judgment in the series of the trumpets is of another kind. "The third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a torch, and it fell upon the third of the rivers, and upon the fountains of the waters; and the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third of the waters became wormwood; and many of the men died of the waters, because they were made bitter." Now a star, as we have seen in an earlier chapter, though in another connection (Rev. 1:20), is the figure of one who holds a place of subordinate authority — one who may give light to others — subject himself to another, but still ruling. Here it is a degraded ruler, a dignitary fallen from his place of authority. Waters are the symbol of people unformed, fountains are the sources of their refreshment, and a river that which characterises their course. A certain proportion is tainted by the fall of the star or ruler, which embitters whatever it touches, and many die because of the waters being made bitter. Here the infliction seems not so much of a political kind as the previous judgment; it is rather the poisoning of all that ought to be the means of blessing to man and that concerns his ordinary life.
Under the fourth trumpet there is something higher. The waters are poisoned before; but now we find that the highest authorities are touched. It is not a star that falls from heaven, but the third of the sun, and the third of the moon, and the third of the stars are smitten; "that the third of them might be darkened, and the day should not shine for the third thereof, and the night likewise." I apprehend that this is a judgment of God on the supreme as well as the inferior authorities of the world within the given range, which are all to a certain extent extinguished, or at least eclipsed.
An important question now arises — the proper fulfilment of these trumpet judgments. It is evident, however, that the answer must depend on the still larger issue of the time and condition to which the prophetic vision in general applies. For this is no matter of detail, but of broad principle, and it is not for me to deny the immense practical consequences of the true application on the one hand, or of views which mislead on the other. Believing that the seven epistles had an immediate literal bearing on the actual Asiatic assemblies of St. John's day, I for one cannot doubt that the seals prefigured the course of the Roman Empire from that epoch onward, and that they have thus had an application by no means immaterial (substantially as the ordinary historical system insists) down to the overthrow of paganism and the nominal supremacy of Christianity, with the natural results of vast accessions of souls from Israel in a measure, but far more from the Gentiles in that sphere and day. According to this idea, the early trumpets appear to me almost of necessity to refer: first, to the Gothic invasions of Alaric, Rhadagaisus, etc.; secondly, to the depredations of Genseric and his Vandals; thirdly, to the "scourge of God," as Attila the Hun was pleased to entitle himself; and fourthly, to the memorable era signalised by the extinction of the Roman empire in the west.
But fully allowing these intimations to be contained within the scope of the visions thus far, it is to my own mind manifest that the seven epistles are stamped with the most comprehensive aims, and from strong internal marks imply the varying phases which the house of God in its protracted existence here below would assume, till the Lord removes the faithful to heaven, keeping them out of the hour of temptation which awaits the earthly-minded, and spueing out of His mouth the self-complacent mass of Christendom. In harmony with this continuous and successive view of the churches, which in one shape or another has commended itself to godly and discerning enquirers of different ages, the most simple interpretation of Revelation 4 and 5 is, that they suppose the rapture and glorification of the church of the firstborn to have taken place, and that Revelation 6 et seqq. begin to receive their grand fulfilment subsequent to that event. It is easy for an ingenious mind to conjure up difficulties and to muster objections in formidable array: no part of scripture, nor truth revealed in it, is exempt from exposure to attacks exactly similar. But nobody can deny that, going by the sacred text itself, this is the most natural way of taking Rev. 4, 5, or that the common theory leaves these admirable scriptures without adequate adaptation to the then circumstances, whether we look at the scene as a whole or at the particular figures therein exhibited. Their occurrence here, on the ordinary view, is an enormous, unexplained and perhaps, it may be added, inexplicable difficulty; but with the rapture of the saints, then an accomplished fact as the key, they are a beautiful and needed preface to all that follows.
Nor this only; for Rev. 6 and the chapters that succeed raise the fundamental question, whether churches or Christians, in the proper sense of the terms, are any longer involved in the scenes they depict on earth, when their full, and not merely their inchoate, accomplishment is in progress. Why should writers on prophecy, without anything like reasonable show of evidence, assume the affirmative? Why not prove it, if they can? The more indispensable the point may be to the popular system, the less satisfactory to unbiassed persons it seems to find its advocates preserving a silence so absolute, not indeed as regards reiterating, and reasoning from that assumption, but as to attempting a demonstration. Who can allege that the proposition is self-evident? Who does not know that there are many intelligent students of the prophetic word who believe that not the church but a godly Jewish remnant, with Gentiles converted but separate, are the parties contemplated and directly concerned in the struggles of the latter day? Is it not worth discussing? What prophetic question more vital or more comprehensive? It would not be charitable to impute this singular reticence to a feeling of contempt for their brethren, neither would it be fair to insinuate that they are conscious of their own inability to give some appearance of scriptural proof in favour of their sentiments.
We deny that these prophecies, precious as they are for our profit, are fully, much less exclusively, about the church: if any assert that such is the case, on them lies the burden of proving it. It is simply taken for granted. Would it not be better to gather up and present, as forcibly as may be, the evidence which strikes their own minds? We appeal to the very scriptures in debate, some as clearly evincing a glorified condition of the Christian body in heaven, before the earthly judicial events transpire, others as clear that Jews and Gentiles, distinct from each other and not associated in one body like the church, are after this seen on earth, and that they are the real objects in the crisis of the close. If we are right, a vast amount of the differences among those who study the subject would be decided without further contest. Why then waste time in the shallow fields of Germanising Praeterists or of Romanising Futurists? Why not grapple with the evidence produced by Christians who are, through God's mercy, at least as far removed from Babylon as the most zealous of Protestants can pretend to be? If this, as I am sure, be the sound and satisfactory interpretation, we are not compelled to bend the past into a reluctant and far-fetched accomplishment, nor are we at liberty to explain away the frequent and obvious indices of the future. It satisfies all just requirement that there be an unforced and general resemblance, sufficient to show the direct finger of God, yet not such as to exhaust the prediction, but rather to leave room for a still closer final application when the saints, body and soul, are above.
"And I beheld and heard an eagle* flying through mid-heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the dwellers on the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels which are yet to sound" (verse 13). It was an eagle, I believe, which John saw here, an angel in Rev. 14:6, to which our verse may have been assimilated, if the two words were not confounded by mere carelessness. The eagle's flight in mid-heaven was the dark and most suited harbinger of coming woe. Nor is there any real difficulty in its loud utterance; for the altar itself is, in the true text, made to speak in Revelation 16:7.
*Mr. E. refers after Zullig to the "learned critic" Wolf's preference of the common text. I doubt that he would have cited such an auxiliary, if he had been aware that the main object of the Curae Philol. seems to be the maintenance of the received readings against the best authorities, and especially in opposition to Bengel. Besides, he is far from positive in this, though greatly suspecting αἐτοῦ. "Quod si tamen aquilae mentio facta censeri debeat, malim omnino cum Seideliano codice et Primasio legere ἀγγέλου ὡς αἐτοῦ πετωμένου. " — (C. P., vol. v. p. 514.)
We have had the preliminary judgments ushered in by the first four trumpets. They dealt, to a certain extent, with man's prosperity high or low — first, in the settled ordered system, and next in a state of confusion; then the blow fell on the means of human enjoyment, turned into bitterness and destruction; and lastly, the whole fabric of political rule, supreme and subordinate, has to suffer a notable eclipse.* Thus, it was a judgment of circumstances, rather than a personal visitation. But we also see a closing intimation of still deeper inflictions, marked off in the most definite way from the series that preceded: "Woe, woe, woe, to those that dwell on the earth," etc. The unsealed do not escape in the first; the third of men are killed in the second. Under the last we come, in a general way, to the end of all.
*I know but must demur to the reasoning of Mr. E. in behalf of the supposition that the literal and the symbolical are mingled in these trumpets. The general examples of figure and fact from Ps. 22 prove nothing for such a book as the Apocalypse. The real question, as he feels himself, is one of admitting literal geography into obviously symbolical prophecies. So, again, an incidental allusion (as in Ezek. 27:26; Ezek. 32:6-7; Ps. 80:8, 11; Jer. 3:6,) is not fairly to be compared with an elaborate orderly series of symbolical images, as in our prophecy, where earth and sea have a definite meaning, quite independent of literal locality; the former referring to the scene of settled government, and the latter to a state of anarchy (cf. Rev. 12:12; Rev. 13:2, 11). Indeed, the instances of Rev. 13: are admitted on all hands. It is most natural, therefore, to adhere to the same sense of the prophetic language in our chapter. The meaning afforded also seems simple and excellent, without the incongruous mixture contended for. And as we saw under the seals, so here in the trumpet series, the fourth, not to speak of the third, presents an insuperable barrier. For surely, we must take the heavenly luminaries in a homogeneous sense; and how then can these be understood literally? The occurrence of the figure in the woe-trumpets would not have been so conclusive; for a difference there is, when we enter on the fifth trumpet. But it is in the fourth that we have sun, moon, and stars smitten. If these, then, are confessedly symbolical, why cut the thread of consistency? why not interpret the three preceding trumpets, as to land, sea, river, and fountains, in a kindred spirit? The sole reason I can conceive for the opposite course is the difficulty that is found in adapting the successive inroads of the barbarians, in a sufficiently definite form, to the various trumpet-blasts. But even so, what ineffectual effort and uncertainty after all! If I understand the Horae A., i. in loco, "the burning of trees and herbage" is viewed physically by one who is generally the intrepid antagonist of literalism in the mouths of his Futurist friends. Why not expound the burning of the third of the earth, which critics admit must be received into the text? Taken figuratively, all is easy and plain, as well as harmonious. Again, if the thunders, lightnings, voices, and earthquake in Revelation 8:5 are answered by the primary insurrection of the Goths under Alaric, immediately after the death of Theodosius the Great, what is the analogous reference of the lightnings, voices, and thunders of Revelation 4:5? Mr. Birks has urged repeated instances where the prefiguration ill accords with Mr. E.'s alleged fulfilment in history; but I am not careful to insist on such points.
"The dwellers on earth" may have a local significance, especially during the great final crisis. But it appears to me that a survey of the various occurrences of the phrase warrants the conclusion that a moral force is the chief and most prominent intention of the Spirit. Twice has it been seen in the Apocalypse before this, and it plays an increasingly grave part as we draw near the close. First it is found in the epistle to the angel of the church in Philadelphia, where the Lord promises to keep those who kept the word of His patience, from the hour of temptation, which is to come upon all the habitable world, to try them that dwell on the earth. (Rev. 3:10.) The reason, I suppose, why the earthly-minded are brought out so distinctly there is, because the church in question supposes an unusual apprehension of Christ, and this in a heavenly way, both as to present enjoyment of Him, and as to the hope of His return. Hence the contrast of the portion of those whose hearts were here below. They shall eat the bitter fruit of their choice when the great tribulation comes, as those whose affections are set on heavenly things will then actually be where they dwell now in spirit. Next under the fifth seal (Rev. 6:10) the souls of the early Apocalyptic sufferers are represented as calling upon the Sovereign Lord to judge and avenge their blood on "them that dwell on the earth." These will then have broken out into relentless, deadly persecution against the witnesses, whom God will have on earth when the seals are being fulfilled. Now under the woe-trumpets, we find them to be the special objects. Further details we must defer till we come to the chapters that treat of them more particularly.
A prefatory remark I may be permitted to make is, that our chapter furnishes an incidental proof that the trumpets are not coincident with the seals. For the sealing, was given in the large parenthesis (Rev. 7) which followed the sixth seal, whereas it is referred to, not after the sixth trumpet, but before it. This could not be if the two series of judgments ran parallel to each other. The natural, and I believe true, inference is, that the seals had finished their course before the trumpets begin, so that when the fifth trumpet sounds the first "woe," the men of the earth fall under its predicted torment, those who were sealed being referred to as in the scene, but exempted from the scourge. How could there be a commission to hurt nothing but those men who have not the seal of God, if there had been no sealing yet? If the sealing had already taken place, parallelism there is not between the respective seals and trumpets, nor can they even harmonize in point of time. They are consecutive, and not concurrent, and the last seal, as we have seen, is the mere prelude of silence for the new series of divine plagues to commence. How could that be if they were to be accomplished side by side? For if the first six seals confessedly follow in regular order, the seventh must be the last in accomplishment, as well as in revelation; but the seventh, instead of shadowing some additional dealing in providence like its predecessors, is only a brief pause in heaven ushering in another and more severe class of decreed judgments. And of these trumpets we must now enter upon the fifth and sixth (that is, the first two woes), to which Rev. 9 is devoted.
"And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fallen from heaven unto she earth; and to him was given the key of the pit of the abyss. And he opened the pit of the abyss; 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. And out of the smoke came locusts unto the earth, and to 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, nor any tree, but the men who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads" (verses 1-4).
The star fallen from heaven to earth is a dignitary in an apostate state; for a real personage is intended, as the next words show — "to him was given the key of the pit of the abyss." The allusion seems evident to Isaiah 14:12, where the king of Babylon is taunted with "How art thou fallen, O Lucifer [i.e., day-star], son of the morning? … Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit." Here it is not his doom, but the authority he was permitted to exercise over the abyss, which is the expression of the source of Satanic evil and misery. "He opened the pit of the abyss, and there arose a smoke out of it, as the smoke of a great furnace," the symbol of a delusion which darkens the mind of man. "The sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit." The supreme power and all healthful social influence suffer pre-eminently from its blinding effects. Nor was this the sole result. "Out of the smoke came locusts," the figure of the aggressive instruments of rapine, and these clothed with a singular power of torment, "as the scorpions of the earth have power." The command given shows, I think very plainly, the error of such as apply the locusts in a literal way. They were not to hurt the grass of the earth, etc., that is, their natural food, if real locusts were meant. Men were to be the objects of these symbolic depredators-men, save God's sealed ones. And yet it was the destiny of these marauders not to kill, but to torment men five months (verse 5). It is a limited predatory chastisement, not judgment-day. "And their torment [was] as the torment of a scorpion when it striketh a man. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death fleeth from them" (verse 6). Nothing on earth can exceed the agony of conscience which will be inflicted on their victims. It is a yet stronger colouring of wretchedness than that in which Jeremiah (Jer. 8:3) depicts the desolated and dispersed Jews in all the places whither they should be driven in the Lord's sore displeasure.
But there is a further description. "And the likenesses of the locusts [were] like horses prepared for battle; and [there were] on their heads as it were crowns of 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 iron breastplates, and the sound of their wings [was] as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. And they have tails like scorpions, and stings;* and their power [was] in their tails to hurt men five months. They have as king over them the angel of the abyss; his name in the Hebrew tongue [is] Abaddon; and in the Greek tongue he hath the name Apollyon" (verses 7-11).
*The common reading is followed by the authorised version, "and there were stings: and their power was to hurt men five mouths."
They were not mere plunderers, but had warlike energy, and they claimed for their onward-rushing career the righteous sanction of God, whose image and glory they bore outwardly, whereas in truth they were thoroughly subject to man and Satan too. Ferocity is theirs, and hearts steeled against every emotion of pity in their swift career. But their worst power was the venom of falsehood which followed. It was the energy of false doctrine, represented by the scorpion sting in the tail. And we know from elsewhere, "the prophet that speaketh lies, he is the tail."
Finally, the king is the angel of the abyss, the same perhaps as the fallen star, who had the key of the pit. If so, it is a dark Satanic destroyer, if not Satan. It is in this world that the devil is so exalted, its prince; he is ruler also of the power of the air and the god of this age. In the abyss he will be bound as a prisoner for a long season; in hell he will be tormented for ever and ever, the most miserable object there, and in no wise ruling as king in either the one or the other. So poets dream; but not so says the scripture.
"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 that are bound at the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed, that were prepared for* the hour and day and month and year, for to slay the third of men. And the number of the army of the horsemen [was] two† myriads of myriads I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and those that sat on them, having breastplates fiery and hyacinthine and brimstone-like; 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 plagues was the third of men killed, by the fire, and the smoke, and the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. For 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. And the rest of the men who were not killed by these plagues repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold and silver and brass and stone and wood: which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk: neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts" (verses 13-21).
*Mr. Elliott seems singularly unfortunate in his remarks on the Greek text. Thus, in verse 15, he contends for the strangest possible version of εἰς as = after, or at the expiration of, the aggregated period in question; and he twice in i. p. 518,519, speaks of ἀποκτεῖναι, a form and import different from ἵνα ἀποκτείυωσιν, the true phrase beyond all doubt, as he gives it in p. 521. It needs no reasoning to see that the action is not momentary but continuous, and that the preposition therefore has its ordinary sense, as Mr. Birks has properly remarked.
†Mr. E. is quite wrong (H. A., i. p. 480, note) in supposing that Griesbach prefers altogether to reject the δύο. Michaelis considers it "a very improbable reading" in the ill-considered and unsound last chapter of his Introduction. No such doubt is expressed, but, on the contrary, δύο is the reading preferred, both in Griesbach's first and second edition, and in the London reprint, 1810, 1818. This odd mistake is repeated in yet stronger terms in note 2 to p. 605, where it is said that Griesbach, on external evidence, prefers the more simple reading μ. μ. "which seems to me preferable on internal also." The common text, read by many cursives, turns out to be that of the Sinai MS., and its equivalent in sense appears in the Alexandrian and the Porphyrian uncials, and a few good later copies. B and very many others, supported by the Arabic of the Polyglotts and a Slav. MS., but contrary to all other ancient versions, omit δύο. Matthaei follows them in that reading, which is the easier of the two. All other editors of note, like Griesbach, retain the δύο, δὑς, or δίς.
It is the voice of the Lord, no doubt, which is heard from the horns of the golden altar. But what a solemn sound is this — above all, issuing thence? For ordinarily that altar is the special witness of His all-prevailing intercession. Thence the incense rose up before God. It was the horns of the brazen altar merely which received the blood of the sin-offering, when an individual sinned, whether a ruler or one of the common people. But when the whole congregation were guilty, the priest was commanded to put some of the victim's blood on the horns of the golden altar; for the communion of the people as a whole was interrupted, and needed to be restored. Here how different! The voice from the four horns of the golden altar orders the angel of the sixth trumpet to loose the four angels that were up to that time bound at (or by) the Euphrates. There they had been prepared for (not "an," but) the hour and day and month and year to slay the third of men. They were prepared, not during that time, much less when it was expired, but with a view to it: when that hour and day and month and year arrived, or rather until the term was over, they were ready to accomplish their prescribed slaughter. They destroyed men by apostacy.
Still, if it be terrible to hear such a signal from the altar of incense, how comforting to think that all in the judgment is so minutely ordered and fore-ordained of the Lord! He it is who first gives the word, and gives it to the holy angel. The angel again looses the four bound at the Euphrates. The evil can only act when and as far as is allowed of the good, and the good, however they may excel in strength, only do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word. The notion that we are to identify the four here with the angels who restrained the winds in Rev. 7 is strange, seeing that contrast is marked, not resemblance. Here they are not restraining but restrained, which is nowhere said of the holy angels. There they stood at the four corners of the earth, as separate as they could be; here all are bound in the same spot.
As to the character of the second woe itself, it is not torment like the first, but destruction of life. Not that there is no element of false prophecy here, as also was there; "for the power* of the horses," it is said, "is in their mouth and in their tails: for their tails [are] like serpents, and have heads, and with them they do hurt." That is, venomous error they propagated and left behind them, and this with more settled plan than in the locust-woe. The locusts in the first woe had scorpion-like tails and stings: the horses in the second had serpent-like tails, which had heads. But they had power in their mouth also. "And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and those that sat on them, having breastplates of fire and jacinth, and like brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceeded fire and smoke and brimstone." It is the judicial power of Satan, as far as God permits that. Besides, it far surpasses in energy and aggressive destructive warfare the preceding woe. This was spiritual — evilly so, of course; the second is more destructive, though in its train follows the injury of the enemies' delusion and falsehood. It seems also more varied as far as leaders go; for the other had but one, this had four angelic agents at the head.
*In note 5 top. 513 of the Horae Apoc., vol. i., Mr. E. omits, "Mill reads" in his last edition, and contents himself with the remark "αἱ εξουσιαι αυτων, 'their authorities are in their tails,' is the notable reading in some MSS. The word is similarly used in the plural, Luke 12:11; Rom. 13:1, etc." How strange is the effect of a system! The truth is that the plural here is due to Erasmus's which R. Stephens followed! And Mill's text is merely third edition with some errata corrected. It is clear from Mill's note that the evidence is entirely adverse. There is not a shadow of doubt that the singular is right; and probably αἱ γὰρ οὐραί led to αἱ γὰρ ἐξουσίαι.
"And the rest of the men who were not killed by these plagues repented not," etc. Humbling lesson, and most needful to remember! God has been sending judgment upon judgment, first on men's circumstances, and then on themselves, and in this last case torment, and finally death itself. But it is in vain. Such is man after all this, that he repents not of his evil, either religiously or morally. Satan's last effort remains.
The reader will perceive that I am merely anxious to present the leading feature of each woe, as far as I am enabled, so as in some measure to help souls to the understanding of the prophecy. This, he will remember, is a very distinct thing from the application of a Prophecy. The question of the persons, or places, or times alluded to, may be deeply interesting, but it is subordinate to the understanding of the book.
For my own part, I do not doubt that the common application of the locusts to the Saracens and of the Euphratean horsemen to the Turks is well founded. But we have seen repeatedly that the fulfilment of the. Revelation cannot properly be before the heavenly saints are caught up, and the earthly people are once more the objects of God's dealings on the earth and in their own land, though by no means to the exclusion of divine testimony and its blessed effects among the Gentiles. According to this later and final accomplishment, the second woe would be fulfilled, I suppose, in the early ravages of the north-eastern (or Assyrian) armies, as the first might be antichrist's delusive agency in the land of Palestine. I conceive that when the prophecy will be realised in all its precision, the scene where these mysterious locusts are to enact their bitter but transitory torment will be the land where at that time the Jews will have largely gathered, but as regards the mass in unbelief. The unsealed naturally points to them and most probably to their land. For it will be noticed that there is no "third" under this trumpet to intimate the direction of the woe, nor any index that I observe, save the exemption of the sealed. The rest of the Jews were still in judicial blindness, and are the implied objects of this judgment. If they are the preparatory movements of these two powers, each is as decidedly opposed to the other as both are to the Lord Jesus: they are to be successively judged and destroyed when He comes in power and glory.
It is interesting to observe that the same chapter of Isaiah (Isa. 14), which I referred to as an illustration of the star fallen from heaven (i.e., the chief personage under the first woe), treats also of the Assyrian enemy, which I judge to be the full meaning of those who figure under the second woe. "The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand; that I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot; then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders. This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth: and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations. For the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?" (verses 24-27.) The difference is that Isaiah gives us the end of their career for the deliverance of Israel, while St. John shows, us rather its beginning and course, as a scourge upon apostate Judaism and Christendom. It would be a mistake to limit Isaiah to the bygone history, or to take the past as more than a type of the future' however important in its day. For in the history the Assyrian fell first, and Babylon's doom was long after. In the prophecy it is the last representative of Babylon (i.e., the beast of the crisis,) who is destroyed first, and then he who answers to the great Assyrian leader of the nations shall come to his end, and none shall help him. So it is written in Isaiah 10:12, "Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks," etc. Our chapter of the Revelation gives us some of the early policy of the Assyrian, if not of antichrist, or of their respective parties.
According to the more vague and protracted historical application, which I conceive to have been comprehended in the divine purpose of these visions, it may be asked how this chapter is to be understood. I have already briefly shown how the earlier trumpets brought us down to the extinction of the Western Roman empire. Pursuing the same thread, the fifth trumpet has a distinct bearing upon the Saracenic infliction, as the sixth refers to the furious onset of the Turks. Hence one is quite willing to allow the general reference of the fallen star to Mohammed, who was the instrument of Satan in opening on the world the delusion of the abyss, with all its darkening effects. Certainly the description suits in many of its characteristic features, not the gradual growth and spread of the doctrinal and moral pravities of Christendom, but that host of marauders who, embracing with ardour the hell-inspired creed of the Arabian false prophet, sprang forth on their ambitious and fanatical career. Not that I can accept without serious drawback much that has been made of the local or national significance of the locusts and the scorpions, the horses and the lions, the faces of men, the hair of women, and the breastplates of iron. For instance, it is plain that the nation, whose rapid devastation of Palestine is portrayed in Joel 2 (the prototype of the Apocalyptic locusts), has nothing to do with the Saracens or Arabia, but is rather the northern array, "the Assyrian," of which the Jewish prophets so often speak Compare also Nahum 3:17, the reference of which confirms the same thing. An exactly similar argument applies to the use of "scorpions" as in Ezek. 2:6, where it is used figuratively as here, but with not the most distant glance at the robbers of the desert. As to the "horses" the very next vision of the Euphratean warriors refutes the notion of a geographical reference; for the Turks are a totally distinct race and emerged from a different quarter; and yet horses are just as prominent here as in the prophecy of their precursors.* Also, in the one we have the heads, in the other the teeth, of "lions." This therefore destroys anything like an exclusively distinct usage, not to speak of the manifold application which other scriptures indicate. The truth is that the Spirit is making up an apt and complete symbolic picture, and in no way ties Himself to the animals, etc., peculiar to the country.
*Compare also what some of these very writers found upon the horses of Rev. 6. Egypt is the first power historically celebrated for its horses. (Ex. 15.) So it was the great market in Solomon's day (1 Kings 10:28), as Togarmah was for Tyre. (Ezek. 27:14.) See Isaiah 31:1, 3. In Zechariah they symbolize the various imperial powers.
To my mind the intention is moral, not geographical; and this kind of teaching detracts from the real force of Scripture, occupying the mind with that which may be partially true in a natural way, but not I believe the object of the Holy Ghost. Hence does it not seem almost trifling to extract from the faces of men, the hair of women, and crowns like gold, an allusion to beard or moustache, coupled with literal flowing hair, surmounted by a turban? Taken as emblems of character, the dignity of the divine word is vindicated and felt. The locusts naturally point to countless swarms, devouring in specified limits, but more distinguished by the tormenting sting of false doctrine. The unsealed, the men of the earth, were the victims of the scourge, but the object was a conquering propagandism: not the extinction of prosperity, but rather the maintenance of it at the expense of the truth, and this for a limited period. The resemblance to horses prepared for battle is the expression of their aggressive attitude, and the crowns like gold seem to intimate their vaunted confidence in a divinely-righteous mission of victory. Their faces as of men, but with the hair of women, may denote that, with all their claim to act authoritatively in the name of God, they were nevertheless subject to the merest human authority, and not to God after all. The iron breastplates, the lion-teeth, the sounding wings, I regard as the figure of the unflinching courage of fanaticism (their strongest armour), and the ferocious depredations that accompanied their wonderfully rapid warfare. The Hebrew name of their king confirms, in my opinion, the full reference to the special wasting of the Jews, as also a connection with the Eastern Empire may be implied in the Greek.
I have thus rehearsed the spiritual significance of the first woe's emissaries, stating particularly what might be supposed to prefigure the past accomplishment, according to which the five months, of course, must be taken as months of years. But I protest against the arbitrariness of interpreting one part of the account literally and the other figuratively. Again, if we examine it closely, the utmost allowable is some such partial incipient accomplishment. For it is plain that the prophet of Mecca was more like a rising star than a fallen dignitary; insomuch that Mede, with the earlier writers in general, applies it to Satan, as others to the Pope, etc. Again, the command not to kill is very hard to reconcile with the exterminating policy of the Saracenic incursions; and the term of 150 years has been doubled by some of great weight, because of a repeated mention (but compare Rev. 20), in order to eke out a more plausible solution. Even this improbable inference from the twofold statement of the five months labours under its own difficulties, as others have sufficiently shown.
As regards the second woe, the first difficulty which the protracted view has to encounter is the meaning of the four angels that were bound by the Euphrates. Most of the Protestant school apply them to four Mussulman powers, either successive or contemporaneous. But, says Mr. Elliott,* "the interpretations are found on examination to be one and all inadmissible. As the commissioning and loosening of the four angels in vision was but a single act, so the agencies symbolized must necessarily have been at one and the same time loosed or commissioned: by which consideration alone all such successions of destroying agencies seemed excluded, as Vitringa and after him Woodhouse have suggested in explanation. And as to contemporary Turkman dynasties, whether we refer to the list given by Mede, and by Newton after him, or that by Faber and by Keith, from Mills and Gibbon, there is no quaternion of them that can be shown either to have combined together in the destruction of the Greek empire, — to have been all locally situated by the Euphrates, — to have had existence at the time asserted to be that of the commissioning of the four angels, — or to have continued in existence up to the time of the completion of the commission given, in the destruction of the Greek empire. In short, the manifest inconsistency with historic fact of every such attempted solution has been hitherto, in the minds of the more thoughtful and learned prophetic students, like as it were a millstone about the neck of the whole Turkish theory of interpretation." This at least is a candid confession, especially when we consider that it is about a prophecy which has been acquiesced in more generally than any other perhaps in the Apocalypse.
*Horae Apoc., i. pp. 488, 490.
But what is the view suggested that is to leave the general application unencumbered? The resource of superhuman angelic intelligences directing the subordinate human energies, and this without reference to the number of earthly instruments employed. In fact Mr. E. identifies these angels at the Euphrates with the angels parenthetically introduced in the sixth seal (Rev. 7), and reasons from the assumption that the judgments of the preceding trumpets were the probable results of their actings. But this, it is clear, does not hang well together with the scheme which insists that the fallen star of the first woe was not an angelic being but Mohammed. Consistency would demand, one would think, that if the angel of the abyss in the preceding trumpet sets forth a man, these four must represent similar leaders. Certainly these are in contrast with the angels whose office it was rather to restrain the winds than to urge on their devastating blasts. All the accessory circumstances strengthen their distinction. Again, the use made of the fire and smoke and brimstone which issued out of the horses' mouths, as if they prefigured the Turkish artillery, of the breastplates of fire and jacinth and brimstone, as an allusion to the Ottoman warlike apparel of scarlet, blue, and yellow, and of the serpent-like horsetails having heads, as the emblem of Turkish pashas, seems to me both inconsistent with other parts of the Apocalypse, and (shall I say?) grotesque in itself.
I deny not the application of the horsemen and horses to the past inroads of the Turks, as distinguished from their Saracen predecessors, devoting themselves to their destructive task in the Eastern Roman or Greek empire, with far more of system, and with more permanent results. In their fierce career they breathed out in no slight measure, along with all the old diabolical delusion, an infernal spirit of judgment; and as were their weapons, such was their armour. Fire and brimstone represent the most extreme form of divine judgment; for they are the same symbols used of the lake of fire at the end of all things into which the wicked dead, after their resurrection and judgment, are to be cast. Again, it was this peculiarly Satanic power, not like the scorpion now, but the serpent, to which the Holy Ghost draws attention as the grand source of mischief. The moral false-prophet action is there, and this too invested with authority; for the tails had heads, and with them they do hurt. Throughout the permitted sphere the result was the utter extinction of Christian profession, while the rest, alas! heeded not the warning. But these features, in my judgment, involve elements still more terrible than anything yet seen on earth; so that all confirms me in the conviction that we must look for another and final answer to the imagery, in the last scourge for the corrupt and idolatrous East.* An awful sketch is given after the judgment has run its course: "And the Test of the men who were not killed by these plagues repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold and silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk; neither repented they of their murders nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornications, nor of their thefts." Thus even the apostacy of those who fell under the scourge from God fails to awaken the seared consciences of men, all the worse for having seen but slighting the light of the gospel. Nothing then remains but a state of abandonment to all immorality and superstition.
*It may be seasonable here to notice briefly Dr. D. M'Causland's Latter Days of Jerusalem and Rome. He regards (pp. 212, 213) the flood prevailing 150 days upon the earth as the type of the fifth trumpet visitation; but why the destruction of all flesh should typify the torment, not the death, of the future victims, does not appear. The sixth trumpet, he thinks, confirms this, because the time prescribed there (391 days and an hour) carries us down, if reckoned on the scale of a day for a year, from the deluge to the epoch of the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. Now supposing there were no chronological objections, where is the congruity of taking the five months literally in the first woe, and the hour and day and month and year symbolically in the second? Besides, here again the destruction in the type exceeds the proportion of the antitype; and, what is more material, our Lord applies both the deluge and the destruction of Sodom to the days of the Son of man, and the day when He is revealed. These would answer to Rev. 19, not to Revelation 9, which discloses preliminary chastisements. Still less can I accept the singular idea that the four angels or their chivalry set forth Israel and Ephraim flying on the shoulders of the Philistines towards the west, and purging away the filth of Jerusalem. For "the men" he conceives to be the unsealed, who were to be tormented but not killed by the antichristian locusts: the horsemen of Israel finish the work.
The same friend who directed Mr. E.'s attention to Griesbach's citation of ἀνέμους and ἄνεμοι from 30 (Cod. Guelph. of the fourteenth century) for ἀγγ in verses 14, 15, recalls this variation to me. It is also supported by 98. (Cod. Bodl. Can. of the sixteenth century.) But I agree with the editors in general that it is barely worth a notice.
Some will remember a resemblance already pointed out between the two orders of seals and trumpets. When we come to the sixth in each series, there is an interruption of a most interesting kind. We saw that after the sixth seal there was such an episode, not of judgment but of mercy — God interfering on behalf of man, after the most signal convulsion among men and things on the earth; and not only so, but the powers of the heavens also shaken. Then we found God showing us that in the midst of judgment He remembers mercy. For there was the sealing of a full complement out of the twelve tribes of Israel, and besides clear and affecting proof was furnished that the poor Gentiles were not forgotten. Thus, when the prophet looks, he sees a countless multitude out of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues. These were evidently delivered by the great goodness of God, and come out of that terrible tribulation that is yet to be. Now in Rev. 9 we have had the sixth trumpet; and, answering to what we have seen in the seals, there is an interruption between it and the seventh trumpet, which is only announced in Rev. 11:15. There is a vision described of a very marked, and, considering the visions that accompanied all the trumpets, of an extraordinary character. A mighty angel comes down from heaven, who appears to be the Lord Himself So we saw in a previous chapter the angel-priest at the golden altar, putting incense to the prayers of the saints which He offered up to God. And I suppose few would imagine that God could commit this service of the heavenly sanctuary to any mere created being. In the Old Testament Jehovah had occasionally assumed an angelic form; and as this book brings us back to a great deal which is akin to the Jewish Scriptures, herein may be one reason why we have Christ thus taking the form of an angel. As before the trumpets were blown, the angel who gave the signal for all was seen in a priestly point of view, here he is in power preparing the way of the kingdom. Accordingly there is every circumstance of majesty surrounding him.
"And I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud." The cloud, as any one will recollect who is conversant with scripture idea and phrase, was the well-known badge of Jehovah's presence. When the Lamb's blood was shed and Israel were being led out of the land of their bondage, God Himself went before them as the angel of the covenant, and the cloud was the visible form or token of it. (Ex. 13:21; Ex. 23:20, 23; Ex. 40:36, 38; Num. 9:15-23.) In the angel that we have here there is much that seems to indicate the presence of the Lord Himself, laying claim to the possession of the world at large. One remarkable sample may be remembered even in the New Testament, at the time when there was a little foreshadowing given of the coming kingdom. Now what was it that testified to the immediate presence of God? and what made Peter and John tremble, accustomed though they were to the company of Jesus and to the most marvellous effects of His power? "They feared as they entered into the cloud," because the cloud was the known and peculiar mark of Jehovah's presence.
Here then, I think, it was no mere creature, but the Creator Himself, who took the form of an angel. It may be too the Lord retreating, if one may so say, from all that would have linked Him manifestly and directly with His people, and this for a very solemn reason. His people during the trumpets are supposed to have, only not wholly, lost their distinctive separation and to be sunk down into the world, so that God morally could not own in a public way His connection with them. In Hebrews 11 it is said of certain believers that God was not ashamed to be called their God. Alas! there are saints of whom God would be ashamed to be called their God. It was not so with the early patriarchs, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: God was their God. But He never calls Himself the God of Lot. This is a serious matter for thought, and our hearts ought to watch against anything that could make Him ashamed to be called our God. It has been alluded to before, when we noticed that the Lord is never spoken of in this series as the Lamb, because the people of God will have got so much mixed up with unbelievers. When these judgments fall, the saints will be painfully merged in the world, so that much of the chastisement will come upon both. Remember also that the Lord tells us the slips of His people that we may be warned by them. How sad to use the prophecy of unfaithfulness in order to justify it, and to attribute the effects of our unbelief to the providence of God!
At the time of the trumpets there is an ominous silence as to the people of God. There is just an allusion to their exemption from the torment of the apostates in Revelation 9:4; but this is the only distinct reference till the parenthesis of Revelation 10 and 11 if you apply the seals and trumpets to the past history of the world, the meaning is so plain that most thoughtful Christians have agreed in the main. Constantine brought in Christianity by force of arms. The consequence of this was the great downfall of Paganism, with intimations of mercy by the by, and the seventh seal was followed by silence in heaven for about half an hour. No false expectation could be there. God knew that, so far from the world being made really better by that astonishing change, all would end in the frightful consequences of grace abused, corrupted, and despised. The vast body which had given up idolatry for the profession of Christianity would ripen for judgment. The immediate result here is the coming in of these trumpets. And what then? God was ashamed of Christendom; heaven was silent now, and yet we know joy is felt there over one sinner that repents. It was, externally at least, a swamp of forms; and where was the Rock of salvation? Alas! He is once more lightly esteemed.
Connected with this, I think, the Lord Jesus is no longer spoken of as the Son of man, much less as the Lamb, if seen here, He is in angelic guise. And as before (in order to distinguish Him particularly from all others) He was engaged with the incense at the golden altar; so here we find He was "clothed with a cloud" — the badge of Jehovah's glory; "and the rainbow [was] over his head," that is, the pledge of God's unchanging covenant with creation. "His face [was] as it were the sun." The sun is ever the symbol of supreme glory in rule, and the face of this angel is said to be like the sun. So it was on the holy mount (Matt. 17:2), and when John saw his Lord again at Patmos. (Rev. 1:16.) "His feet as pillars of fire" united, it would seem, the solidity of the "pillar" and the thorough final judgment that is so constantly conveyed by "fire." He plants the left on the sea, meaning the unformed masses of the outside world, and the right on the earth, i.e., that part of the world which is favoured with divine testimony and government. In other words, it is the Lord's universal claim over men, over the world. It is a public declaration of His right, not in respect of the church, but of the earth: not yet His actual investiture as Son of man, but a dealing of providential character, which involves a recommencing of testimony preparatory to His speedy assumption of universal dominion.
But a further step has to be taken now. It is not, as in Revelation 5, God seated upon His throne with the sealed book in His right hand, and then the Lamb opening the book as the One who had prevailed to do so. And how prevailed? Through death. It is not by creature-strength that the man of God conquers. The victories that will shine most and brightest are always those cast, so to speak, in the mould of the death of the Lord Jesus. In poor man's case it is life first and then death, because we are by nature dead in trespasses and sins; but in that of the Lord Jesus it is death first and then resurrection-life; and such is the pattern for the Christian's faith to realize. Our whole life, as believers, should flow according to the same cross that has wrought our salvation; for the cross is God's power for us all the way through. (Gal. 6.) It is God who has given us to suffer, and then comes power practically; but this is, perhaps always, after there has been more or less a realization of weakness and suffering. (2 Cor. 12; 2 Cor. 13:4.) A man cannot win Christian victories until he is ban and low before God. He must be broken down in one way or another. And blessed it is if we are broken down in the presence of Christ; for if it be not there, we must be broken down, if one may say so, in our own presence, and haply too in that of others. In Revelation 5, however, Christ opens the book that was unintelligible to all the mind of man, and He shows, us from the seals certain judgments of God, so little removed from ordinary events in providence that we should scarce have known them to be judgments, save by that divine unveiling. But the Lamb unfolds all, and we find that God is at work to introduce the kingdom of the First-begotten, to put the Heir in actual possession of the inheritance.
In the chapter before us there is a difference. It is not a sealed book that we have, but an open one: and it is also emphatically a little book. There is nothing mysterious about the matter. We come here to a notable change in the Revelation. Instead of its being as hitherto, events that were the secret effects of God's unseen hand, there is a manifestation of His power and purpose with regard to His people. All becomes quite plain. We have no longer symbolical locusts, having a king (cf. Prov. 30:27), or strange and strangely numerous horses and horsemen, etc. It is now God's open, brief, and decisive actings. This I apprehend to be the difference between the two books. The first was in the hand of God and sealed, so that none could open it, save the blessed One who suffered all for the glory of God. Here it is an open book, which the prophet takes from the angel's hand; and immediately we have no longer the more secret or enigmatical appearances of earlier visions, but the temple, the holy city, the Gentiles treading it under foot — all an obvious manifestation that God is acting on the Jews. We have before had the sealing a certain number out of the tribes of Israel, scattered, as I suppose, throughout the whole world. But here (Rev. 11) we come to a smaller scale, where God's dealings are concentrated on Jerusalem, the sanctuary. altar, worshippers, two witnesses, etc., and where they are also brought out so plainly that there need be no mistake as to what God means thereby. The beast as such also appears here in undisguised and tremendous opposition against God and His servants. And evidently the lord Jesus is showing that the time approaches when He must take all into His own hands. This then is an open book, because all that it Contains is perfectly plain; and it is a very little book, because but a short time and a narrow compass are contemplated in it.
"And he cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth, and when he had cried, the seven thunders uttered their own voices. And when the seven thunders had uttered [them], I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying, Seal the things which the seven thunders uttered and write them not"* (ver. 3, 4). "Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey? will a young lion cry out of his den, if he have taken nothing? … shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets. The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?" (Amos 3.) I cannot but regard this passage of the Jewish prophet as in various elements illustrative of the vision we are examining. Again, thunder in the Old Testament was constantly the expression of God's authority in the way of judgment. We are summoned to hear this awful announcement of God's judgments. John was about to write, but a voice from heaven forbids it. He was not to communicate the details of what God was going to do now. But the angel "lifted up his right hand to heaven and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven … that there should be no more space [or delay], but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he should be about to sound, the mystery of God also should be finished, as he announced to his servants the prophets"† (verses 5-7).
*In the first clause of v. 4, the uncial MSS. A B C P, the majority of cursives, and almost all the ancient versions, besides Greek and Latin fathers, omit τὰς φωνὰς ἑαυτῶν, and the rendering would then be, "And when the seven thunders had spoken," for English hardly admits of the absolute "had uttered." I suppose that the phrase was assimilated to the close of verse 3, whereas the true form is corroborated by the latter clauses of verse 4. The difference in sense would be that these thunders not only emitted their own proper sounds, but conveyed something intelligible to the prophet. At the end of verse 4, μὴ αὐτὰ γράφῃς is supported by the overwhelming preponderance of manuscripts. The common text has ταῦτα with a few cursives, most of which, with the old Cappadocian commentator Andreas, read μετά for μή. This last, I presume, was the mere blunder of a scribe, who probably confounded a contraction of the former with the latter, and this might be the more readily, inasmuch as μετὰ ταῦτα ("after these things") is a frequent formula in Revelation. It is curious that this obvious mistake, yielding a sense totally different from, and nearly opposite to, the one intended, has been followed in more than one of the old foreign editions, beginning, if I mistake not, with the Complutensian, though the fact is not stated by Tregelles, etc. There are also discrepancies as to the form of the last word, but there is the less reason to record them, as that which some authorities give is not even sense.
†The right readings here, I believe, are χρόνος οὐκἐτι ἔσται … καὶ ἐτελέσθη. The former confirms the sense given in the text and evidently means that there shall be no longer space or delay, but in the days, etc. "The time shall not be yet" would require ὁ καιρός instead of χρόνος, and οὔπω rather than οὐκέτι, which, in constructions like the present, means "no more." Others take it as "a [mystical] time;" but this also in scripture is always καιρός. The meaning which results from the latter very accurately falls in with the sentiment, for ὅταν μέλλῃ σαλπίζειν avoids the indefiniteness of the mere future, and intimates that, when the seventh angel should just sound, the mystery of God should also be finished, or literally "was finished," the Greek aorist being employed to express the summariness of its completion — its coincidence, as it were, with that seventh blast. Bp. Middleton (and before him, it seems, Piscator and Vitringa) suggested a Hebraism as the source of this peculiar use of the aorist; for the Hebrew preterite very frequently stands for the future when that tense goes before and is joined by the conjunction. Indeed, as Gesenius remarks (Rödiger's ed., § 124, 6), the Pret. with Vau conversive relates to futurity, Also when it is not preceded by a future tense, but by some other indication of futurity, and even where none such appears. This solution, if it be true here, confirms καὶ ἐτελέσθη. Here, again, τελεσθήσεται would leave a vague future open, and another form is employed, which may appear harsh at first, but the propriety of which becomes apparent, the more the requirements of the passage are understood. Τελεσθῃ is good in sense, and fairly supported; but it is easier than ἐτελέσθη and may have been the correction of a copyist. The converse appears to me improbable.
I apprehend that people often gather a vague if not wrong notion from those words, "there shall be time no longer." Many imagine that it means there was then to be an end of time, and eternity was to begin. But this is not at all the sense, and the case shows the importance of seeking light from God. The meaning is, that God would no longer allow time to run on before He interfered with the course of this world. It is not that eternity was at once to begin, but that there should be no longer any lapse of time before His last summons to the world and the introduction of a new dispensation, in which He will deal in an open manner with men on the earth. Since the rejection and ascension of the Lord Jesus, men — "His citizens" have sent a message after Him, saying (at least in their hearts), "We will not have this man to reign over us." Such has been the voice of the world ever since He went into the far country. The real desire of man is to be rid of Christ; and in general he thinks he is. And no wonder he dislikes to hear of His return in power and glory; for the scriptures declare expressly that Christ is to judge man, and man does not like to stand before his judge. Hence he puts off as long as possible the warning of Christ's advent to judge sin and sinners. The Lord intimates here that there is to be ere long a close put to the present delay. All the time that Christ is away at the right hand of God there is a suspense of judgment. But God feels deeply for His people, suffering as they must during the interval of Christ's rejection; and now He is not going to allow such a state of things to continue any longer, for there are the evident signs and tokens of the Lord's coming to deal with His enemies.
The mighty angel swears that there should be no further delay (not before eternity, but) before the day of the Lord. The space or day spoken of here is man's day, and when this ends, the day of the Lord begins, which latter in scripture is never confounded with eternity, because that day has an end; whereas of course eternity never can terminate. Viewed from every side, the real force then is "that there should be no longer delay." And remark the words in the following verse: "But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he should be about to sound, the mystery of God should be finished," etc. These words at once contradict the thought that eternity was to follow immediately. On the contrary, after this the whole of the millennium comes in; after it a little season, and then eternity. Souls are sometimes hindered from entering into the truth of God by one little word, and so I believe it has been with this passage. Often when a slight obscurity is cleared up, heaps of difficulties disappear.
God will put a stop to the present delay: "the mystery of God" will then be finished. This I take to mean the secret of His allowing Satan to have his own way, and man too (that is to say, the wonder of evil prospering and of good being trodden under foot) God cheeks, no doubt, the evil in a measure, partly through human government and partly through His own providential dealings. And indeed it is an immense mercy that there are such restraints upon the evil of this world. For what would it be without them, when, even in the midst of God's providential cheeks, wickedness is often so triumphant, and godliness thrown to the ground? Still there is an influence for evil that no government can root out, and good that is belied and so has comparatively little influence. That is what seems so mysterious a thing to us, when we know God and how He hates evil. But it is soon coming to an end. God is about to touch all that is contrary to Himself, to bring all that has been promised from of old, and to give credit for all that has been done according to Himself And He is going to do this by His Son. The One whom man despised and rejected is the very person whom God will send to reduce all into holy order and beauty out of the existing mass of confusion.
"The mystery of God" must not be confounded with the mystery of His will in Eph. 1:9. This last is what has been always near to His heart, for it involves the glory not of the church only but of Christ. It is "according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself." There was no one that suggested it. It was His own will. And what is the mystery of His will? "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even in Him." All these things that Satan has scattered now will be reunited in one under Christ. Mercy and truth will then meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other. This is true even now for the believer, as far as his own reconciliation to God is concerned. Satan may challenge you. — How can it be had in the presence of so much evil within? No wonder that this cuts right into the conscience of the man that doubts God, and even of the one that believes Him, if he is looking at himself. When occupied with myself these doubts may well arise, but not if I am looking only to Christ. He alone is entitled to give me rest before God. It is Christ alone who can dissipate the waves and the winds. Satan has set man against God in every way, even against goodness coming down from Him; but God is not going to allow evil to pass a certain limit. Though Satan's opposition is allowed to frustrate God's plans for the present, yet every one of the ways in which He has been at work in the earth from the first is destined to triumph and to triumph together in the end. (Hosea 2:21, 23.) There was a man set up in Adam; there was government put into the hands of Noah; there was God's calling given to Abraham; there was the long and patient test of the law; finally, there was the mission of His Son and of His Spirit. All these things, so to speak, have been streams from God flowing through this earth. They have been refused or corrupted by man from the first, and through the enemy's power men will abuse these very dealings of God to bring in the most daring and deadly conspiracy that the world has ever seen — Satan and man combined against God, who will allow all this evil to come out, and will then put an end to it by judgment. This is the finishing of the mystery.
But that which is called "the mystery of His will" is not the subject of prophecy. Christ will be the Head of all blessing and He will gather all things in united blessing under His own headship — all that Satan had contrived to spoil. What God made originally was merely in a condition of innocence. but what the Lord Jesus will accomplish in the end, the reconciliation of all things, will be beyond Satan's power to touch. All will be gathered together in one, even in Christ their chief. And another thing it is well to state. In this mystery of God's will we are not merely to be blessed under Christ, but in order to get the full character of the blessing, we are blessed with Him. And this is what we have here in Ephesians: not that we will be a sort of inheritance for Christ, but we are joint-heirs with Him. In that great mystery of God in Christ, there are two thoughts — Christ's universal headship, and the church's union to Him. There is no such thing as our being united under Christ's power; but all things that ever have been made are to he united under His headship; and, wonderful thought! the church is to share all that glory along with Him. it is not what belongs to Christ as a divine person, but what He takes as the reward of redemption. And this very work gives Him a title to bestow it on whom God will. The church is united as the body and bride of Him who is the Lord of all. She is the Eve of the Second Adam. In Ephesians 5 St. Paul takes up more particularly the latter part of the subject. Christ is to present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. The great mystery brought out there is the nearness, the love, the intimacy of bridal relationship between Christ and the church.
In the Epistle to the Colossians you have the same thing referred to (Col. 2:2): "To the acknowledgement of the mystery of God [and of the Father, and of Christ]." These last words seem inserted without adequate authority, and when persons try to mend scripture, they only damage it. There is a certain great mystery spoken of in Colossians 1 (Col. 1:26.) The meaning of the word mystery is a secret. It may not be a secret now, but it means a thing that was a secret. Where there is anything that people cannot understand, they are apt to designate it a mystery. But in scripture it means a truth that God kept hid, but that is so no longer — something which they did not know as men or Jews, but that Christ was to teach them as Christians. There is another statement about it in the next verse: "To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."
As to the predictions of Christ in the Old Testament, it is a mistake to call this or the fact itself a mystery: enough was quite plain. What the Jewish prophets proclaimed was a Messiah coming who would reign over them, and who would unite salvation with being "the great King." What they did not understand, though revealed, was His humiliation and death. They stumbled over Him. Again "the mystery" is a term never applied to Christ's death and resurrection. This was not a secret at all, but on the contrary is very plainly predicted in Isaiah 53, Psalms 16, 22, 69, 106, and many other passages.
But it was a mystery that, when Christ was rejected by His people, and during the time of His exaltation in heaven, God would make Him to be the Head of a heavenly body, chosen by His grace out of all — Jews or Gentiles. This was not treated of in the Old Testament. There were certain things that we can now show to be types of it, but they never would have yielded the least light upon it, if the mystery had not been brought out. There was no such thing then, nor even any such predicted, as Jew and Gentile being blessed together in one body; and this is the reason why it is called "the mystery hidden from ages and from generations." It was a secret hid in God that the prophets did not touch upon. When the Jews have. their Messiah, it will not be as the hope of glory, but as the One who Himself brings in the glory. When the time comes for the blessing they are looking for, there will be no doubt about it, for all will be manifested, whether for friends or foes; neither will it be a hope, but the actual accomplishment of glory in their midst. But now there is an extraordinary state of things that God is effecting among the Gentiles while the Jews are cast off. The Gentiles have Christ now, not as bringing in glory visibly on the earth, as it will be among the Jews by and by, but they have Him in them the hope of glory by and by, and in heaven.
The term "mystery of God" may be used in our chapter, because it was specially during the time of God's non-intervention with the world that He had been working out the wonderful secret of Christ and the church. Now this was done with. Still the mystery of evil being permitted to prosper goes on for a time longer — that passiveness of God, whereby He does not hinder evil from having the upper hand, and good from being trampled down. It should soon close, as He declared the glad tidings to His servants the prophets. The voice speaks again and says, "Go take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel," etc. (verse 8.) Accordingly John takes the book, and finds it, when he has eaten, in his mouth sweet as honey; but when he ponders its contents, and digests its results, how bitter within So it is and will be. When we see how God will accomplish all, it must be pain to think what is reserved for man, as indeed it is to know how perseveringly he rebels against God, and forsakes his own mercies.
The Lord grant that what has been of God for the clearing of our standing from earthly principles, and awakening a just feeling of the exceeding dignity of the place in which God has put us, may be impressed upon our hearts. None are in so responsible a place as those who are occupied with heavenly things. And let us not suppose that position, or even truth, will of itself keep a soul: nothing but the spirit of God can; and He never will, where there is not dependence and self-judgment. He is come to glorify Christ. The Lord grant that we may watch and pray! For while the truth is calculated to separate from the world, yet where it is abused and degenerates into that knowledge which pulls up, one is prepared for the worst results.
It remains to add a few words as usual on the past measure of accomplishment which this parenthetical vision has received. I am not disposed to question its general application to that wonderful divine intervention, the Reformation. The Eastern empire had for some time succumbed to the furious onset of the Turks; the West was not a whit less steeped and impenitent than before in abominable idolatry and imposture, when that sudden light from on high shone upon astonished Europe. Not that the grace of Christ was deeply realized, or reflected in the Reformation. The testimony of its leading spirit, Luther, expressed itself in a way more akin to the lightnings and thunders of Sinai, and savoured too often of earth rather than of heaven. In fact it is this comparative earthliness of character, which enables the Historicalists to find so many apparent coincidences between that great work and the vision before us. It is just because Luther so much approximated, not to St. Paul's line of ministry, but to the prophetic testimony of Jesus which is yet to be borne by the latter-day witnesses, that there seems so much in common between the tenor of his life and the tendency of his labours, and the predictions of what they are to teach and do and suffer by and by. The idea of comparing it with the original sending out of the gospel and formation of the church at Pentecost is, I cannot but feel, a gross misconception.
Besides, is it true that there is not a particular in the vision to which the Reformation does not exactly answer? Does the blaze of the Sun of righteousness intimate the republication of His gospel? I do not doubt that the full meaning of the vision involves a public testimony to the coming of "the day;" but for this reason the gospel is excluded, as any spiritual person may see who dispassionately weighs Mal. 4. For the essence of the gospel is that therein God justifies the ungodly and saves the lost; whereas it is "unto you [the godly remnant of the Jews] that the Sun of righteousness arises with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith Jehovah of hosts. Remember ye the law of Moses my servant." There may be a measure of resemblance between this and the aims and course (though not the issue) of the more warlike Reformers; but in that very proportion it is the reverse of the gospel, or of the practical conduct which flows from and is suitable to it.
Again the cloud recalls the deliverance of Israel, as the rainbow does the covenant with the earth, when government was instituted; the pillars of fire represent judicial firmness, and the loud lion-like voice is the terror-striking assertion of His rights, preceded by the significant claim laid to the whole world, and followed by the complete utterance of God's power. These with the little open book (which appears to mean known prophecy relative to the city and temple) are all of them features entirely agreeing with the approaching resumption of the Lord's relations with Jerusalem and the Jews, and the world in general, but not one of them, as it seems to me, in its full import like the gospel of God's grace. Heaven and the church are entirely unseen: it is a question of an earthly people, and hence of kings and nations; it is the recommencement, not of evangelising, much less of edifying the body of Christ, but of the prophetic testimony here below. The decree is declared. Jehovah's anointed King is about to take Zion, His hill of holiness, nay, the nations for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. He is no longer to ask the Father for the heavenly sons, but for the, world itself — no longer to set apart by the truth for association with Himself above, but to reduce people with a rod of iron, and to dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. "Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth." Such is the obvious connection of the scene before us. In view of this, it is a preliminary interference. Had the Reformers understood the high calling of the saints, or the nature, character, and consequences of our union with Christ in heavenly places, there would have been a contrast, not an analogy. In truth it was (I repeat) the effect of their lack of spiritual intelligence as Christians, and their approximation to godly Jews, which imprinted on their movement whatever assimilation there is to the scene we are reviewing.
Further, the attempt to make it the complete answer involves at least the ordinary amount of strain, and I might almost add of the absurd. For, in his haste to apply the principle of allusive reference, as it has been called, the author of the Horae Apoc. does not even glance at the connection of the seven thunders with Christ. It was too good an opportunity to lose for an allusion to the thunders of the Vatican. But here, strange to say, and in opposition as it appears to me to the very principle invoked, Mr. Elliott wrests these thunders from Him who is the primary figure in the vision, and applies them exclusively to the Pope! The reasoning that is offered in support of the proposition, so monstrous to any mind not under the overwhelming bias of a system, appears to me wholly groundless, though not unworthy of Mr. E.'s well-known ingenuity. 1. The vocality of the thunders is not altogether unprecedented in this book (Rev. 6:1), and besides, the trumpets are said to have the same (Rev. 8:13). Compare also Rev. 16:7 for the altar. The supposed parallel in John 12:28 is certainly not in favour of papal oracles. 2. The reflective pronoun no doubt implies that the voices were their own, the sounds proper to the thunders spoken of; but that they were in opposition to the angel's crying as with lion's roar is the most unnatural of inferences. Whatever may be thought of the theory of an allusion to Leo X., even so the analogy of every other vision is in favour of the thought that the direct reference is the full expression of divine power, as God's seal upon the angel's assertion of title. 3. It seems to me almost awful to lay it down that the proposition, "write them not," implies that the voices were "not the true sayings of God, but instead thereof false, and an imposture." (H. A., vol. ii. p. 105.) The real reason is very simple. The general fact, that "the voice of Jehovah" echoes the claims of Christ to the possession of the world is given; the details are not to be written. The apostle Paul was caught up into paradise and heard secrets (ἄρρητα ῥήματα) which it is not allowed for man to utter. The prophet John was about to write what the thunders divulged, but the voice from heaven commands the things to be sealed, not written — a mode of dealing most extraordinary, if the utterances are supposed to be the false decrees of Rome, but well harmonizing with the conclusion that other things were yet to be revealed, before the power of God was enforced and the earthly rights of Christ are made good by judgment. 4. Hence, I utterly reject, as a mere corollary of the last error, the idea of reference here to the seven hills of Rome. Hitherto the septenary usage of the Revelation has been entirely independent of that local sign, which occurs only in Rev. 17, where the context proves that Rome is in question. Here, for the same reason of the connection, the Roman hills are an intrusion, while the idea of completeness is the natural sense. 5. This also accounts for the prefixed article, as in the case of the seven angels (Rev. 8), who, I presume, have no special connection with that city. As to the opinion that there is nothing but the Papal bulls to which the seven Apocalyptic thunders have been made to answer, it is natural in the quarter whence it flows; but when the writer adds "or can be," he passes, I humbly think, beyond the bounds of wisdom or modesty. None of us is the measure of divine knowledge nor of what the Lord may bestow. Further, I for one confess my inability to discern, even with the special pleading of the Horae, the peculiar suitability of the angel's oath to the prevalent convictions of the Reforming fathers or their Protestant children. Savonarola and others before him seem to have been rather more full of the nearness of Christ's kingdom than Luther and his coadjutors. What the great German expected was rather the destruction of the Pope's kingdom by the word alone, and this founded on his construction of Daniel quite as much as St. Paul; i.e. it seems to me, in contrast with the open book and the angel's most solemn announcement. Nor did Melancthon improve on Luther, when he assigned Dan. 7 to Mohammedanism and Dan. 8 to the Papacy. Neither can I admit that prophesying, as addressed to John, and predicated of the two witnesses, or indeed ever, is the mere function of expounding the scriptures and exhorting from them, as fulfilled in every faithful gospel minister. The notion, too, that in the words, "Go take the little book," and "thou must prophesy again," we are to read (not now of course, an allusive reference, but) a sort of prefiguration of the deacon's ordination to preach the gospel or Christian ministry, and of the taking in hand the New Testament to translate it into the vernacular tongue; and yet more, that St. John's being made representative of the faithful ministers of the Reformation at this epoch intimates that they were all in the line of evangelical succession, is to me more like playing with feelings than a grave exposition of this chapter. It is the attempt to apply the details to the past, which betrays the unsatisfactoriness of the exclusive Protestant scheme: a bearing on it, definite enough to show that such a work as the Reformation was not overlooked of God, in the protracted application of the book, I have already admitted. The full literal carrying out of every word awaits the end of the age.
From the moment that God begins to deal with the earth in an open manner, Israel naturally comes forward and also the Gentiles as connected with them. (Deut. 32:8-9.) We have had the twelve tribes scattered abroad and a measured number sealed; but the land of Judea and Jerusalem is the great foreground of the picture that we see here. "Rise," it is said to the prophet, "and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein." The altar, I think, clearly refers to the brazen altar; for the golden altar was included in the temple. "They that worship therein" are persons who are characterized by nearness to God. The altar was the expression of true approach to God, and they have drawn near Him. It was the place of the burnt-offering which marked the acceptance of the person. Now this shows us that here we have God owning a certain number of people on the earth as capable of drawing near to Him. "Measure the temple," etc., meant, I suppose, that God appropriated thus far Himself (verse 1).*
*The received text gives καὶ ὁ ἄγγελος αἱστήκει, the Complutensian, following several MSS., has the same words, thus — καὶ αἱστ. ὁ ἄγγ. Erasmus and R. Stephens had more rightly left them out, as do the Alexandrian MS., more than thirty cursives, and all the ancient versions, save the Arm. and Syr., which in the Apocalypse are not seldom encumbered with glosses. The present addition was probably drawn from Zechariah 3:3 through the scholiast Andreas. The elliptical construction perplexed people, and disposed them to adopt some such interpolation. Beza was the first. after the Complutensian editors, who sanctioned the clause in the common printed copies; and this to avoid the absurdity of the reed's seeming to speak. But there is no necessity, as he himself admits, for such a meaning, if we do adhere to the best authorities. At the same time it is a mistake to say that the words are wanting in all the most ancient Greek MSS.; for A P omit and B has them, while C being deficient cannot therefore be cited.
"And 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" (ver. 2). The Jew is owned to a certain extent by God; and consequently their city is spoken of as the holy city, and the Gentiles as those who were defiling and treading it under foot. But it is important, before we go any farther, to enquire whether there is any reference in other scriptures to this same period, spoken of here as forty and two months. It will not be doubted that the prophecy of Daniel is the book which most nearly answers in the Old Testament to the Apocalypse in the New. We find there a period mentioned of three years and a half, called in mystical language "a time, times, and a half." Let us turn to Daniel 7. There we find the Gentile powers represented as wild beasts, having in part some resemblances in nature. There was a winged lion and a bear; and the leopard was presented as a four-winged witness to the swiftness of conquest men would see in the power represented by that beast. Every one knows there never was an empire in antiquity like the Macedonian under Alexander for spreading itself by rapid conquest; and not only this, but it had its roots deep, so that even to this day the remains of the Grecian empire are seen; and these, not exhumed as it were, but in living effects. The fourth beast was of a composite character, unlike anything that had been before. Upon its head were ten horns, and after them in their midst another little horn was seen by the prophet to emerge. This last takes the place of three others, and becomes the great object with which the Spirit of God is occupied, not of course because of anything good connected with it, but because of its deadly hostility to God and His people. Daniel looks at him more particularly in his political, and the Revelation in his politico-religious character. It is with this fourth Gentile empire, the Roman beast, and in relation to the Jews, that the period is given.
It does seem no slight hallucination of mind to divert these scriptures from Judea, and to transport Rome into them. But the cause is apparent. Men had been so occupied with the controversies between Protestantism and Popery, that they naturally looked through the scriptures to find something about the pope; and finding there was one person more wicked than any other (the antichrist), they came to the conclusion that the antichrist and the pope were the same thing. Now, it is true that they both do similar things to a certain extent; but when you look into the scriptures, antichrist finds his place in Judea, and in connection with the Jewish people, in a way the pope has never done. I do not say the pope may not do so; but it is impossible yet to apply fully and exclusively what is said about the antichrist to the pope as such. There is a future system of lawlessness, and a future person at its head, who will rise up against Christ in His Jewish rights and glory, uniting political power with religious pretension, and this in the city of the great King. There are many antichrists, it is true, and the pope may truthfully be regarded as one of them; but not as the antichrist who is to come. That is reserved for the time immediately preceding Christ's appearing from heaven. He will personally affect and oppose the Lord Jesus, and will by Him personally be put down. People ought to be prepared for this; but they, on the contrary, imagine that Popery is the last antichrist, and that it is getting so decrepit as to be well-nigh sinking into its grave. But the Bible is clear that the most hateful development of lawlessness is yet to come; and that when it arrives it will carry away, not Popish countries only, but Protestant ones, and the Jews themselves, in its fatal delusions.
In Daniel 7 the little horn is said to speak great words against the Most High, land shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws; and they shall be given into his hands, until a time, and times, and the dividing of time." Now it appears to me perfectly certain that the "times and laws" in question here are those the prophet Daniel was familiar with. These "times" had to do with Israel's festivals, and the "laws" with the Jewish polity or ritual. The saints of the Most High were those whom the prophet knew and was interested in; just as in Revelation 12 "the children of thy people" (i.e., Daniel's people) are intended. This shows that a special enemy of God's people in Judea who will arise in that day is here spoken of. He meddles with the Jews when they have begun to be owned in a measure by God. This iniquitous power wears out the saints of the high places, and thinks to change times and laws; and they shall be given into his hand. Not that the saints should be so given, for God never relinquishes them to the enemy: He may permit saints to be worried for a while, but He never gives them up. It is the times and laws that are thus given for a season, because the nation is not owned thoroughly till the Messiah comes. As yet it is only a partial recognition of their worship. These are then to be abandoned to him "for a time, and times, and the dividing of time." You have this same period referred to in the forty-two months, which is exactly the same length of time, taking "a time" as meaning a year.
In Daniel 9, you have another note of time, the famous seventy weeks (verse 26). "And after threescore and two (or rather, after the threescore, in addition to the previous seven) weeks shall Messiah be cut off and (margin) shall have nothing;" i.e., after sixty-nine of the seventy weeks Messiah is cut off. Then an interruption follows on account of this; all the weeks do not expire. There remains one, the last, to be fulfilled, which is kept separate, like a link wrenched off from the preceding chain. You will observe that, after the death of Messiah the Prince, another prince is alluded to as yet to come; and he is evidently an antagonistic prince, a prince of the Roman people. The grave mistake is made by many, that this prince was Titus, who came and took the city of Jerusalem; but it is not so. The verse does not state that the prince should destroy, etc.; but "the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and sanctuary;" and so they did. The Romans came under that general. But when we are told of "the people of the prince that shall come," it is a plain intimation to my mind that there was a certain great ruler to forlorn prince connected with the Roman empire. His people were to come first, which they did under Titus; afterwards the prince comes himself, which I believe to be still future. For mark well, that the past destruction of the city and sanctuary is not included in the course of the seventy weeks at all. It is after the sixty-ninth, and before the seventieth begins. There was a chain, so to speak, of sixty-nine weeks of years up to the death of Christ; then it was broken. There was an important link, the seventieth week, remaining. What becomes of it? The last verse takes it up, and is clear enough that this seventieth week has to do (not with Christ but) with His enemy who is to have a manifest connection with the Roman people, and also with the Jews. Observe that in the twenty-sixth verse, after the threescore and two weeks in addition to the seven, when the Messiah is cut off, there is no mention of the weeks. In what comes after, we have no date, till we enter upon verse 27; showing that what intervenes is not counted as a part of the continuous line of the weeks. "The end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end thereof desolations are determined." The city and sanctuary were destroyed long since, but the desolations are "unto the end;" and they still go on.
Till lately, of all people of the earth a Jew had the greatest difficulty to get into the land. There is a change coming over the spirit of the nations towards Israel, I admit. Some of the Gentiles seem to forget that the Jew is under a peculiar judgment of God. This is no excuse for dealing harshly, of course, but it is a grave reason why men should not meddle with them politically. For the Jew to be so mixed up with the Gentiles is a sort of apostacy, and for the Gentile it is to despise God's judgment and eventually to incur it. It will be found that God cannot be with such an union. When the Gentiles have given up every thought of divine election of the Jew, I believe that the hand of God will confound their schemes, and that He will interfere to bring out His people distinctly and separately from all others, first for judgment and then for blessing. When all seems to be quiet and prospering, God will spoil what man thinks he is doing; for He has not finally cast off Israel. The Jew may have given up God and have amalgamated with the Gentile; but God will never forget that He chose the fathers and made promises as to the children. True, the Jews undertook to be His people and miserably failed in fulfilling their obligations; but God will not fail to accomplish His purpose. When the Gentile mariners had got Jonah in their ship, God was determined to have him out. If they did not cast him forth into the sea, God would break their ship to get His prophet out so as to be with Himself and His work. So it will be in the day that speedily approaches.
From Isaiah 18 we find that there is to be a partial restoration of Israel by Gentile power, chiefly through the influence of a certain maritime power "that sendeth ambassadors by the sea." They may bring some of the Jews back to their own land, but the Jews will still be rebellious and unbelieving. All seems to flourish, but suddenly there comes a blight from God. Quite unexpectedly He allows the ancient enmity to break out among the Gentiles against the Jews. "The fowls," as it is said, "shall summer upon them; and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them." Every kind of unrelenting hatred is shown once more. They are the dead body; and where the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. The Gentiles who seemed to be so kind will again stand aloof from them, and as of old unite for the purpose of crushing them. And what will be the end? The Gentiles having relapsed into their old hatred against Israel, God will espouse the cause of His people. He refrains while man is meddling; but when an immense host comes up against them, in that very day "shall the present be brought unto Jehovah of hosts of a people scattered and peeled, and from a people terrible from their beginning hitherto." God, as I understand the prophet to say, will bring a present to Himself of His long-scattered and persecuted Israel.
This will show how naturally in the Revelation we have a reorganization of the Jewish polity and worship, after the church has been caught up to heaven and before the appearing of Christ. We see a little remnant in the midst of the mass which were to be given over to the Gentiles. For forty-two months the holy city is to be trodden under foot. The Lord allows a certain period to go on as far as the many were concerned, but He measures the temple, and the altar, and them that worship therein for Himself This remnant might be killed, but He values them. When some of the Jews are thus in their own land, but Israel as a whole is not yet thoroughly brought in by God, the predicted Roman prince will come, who will "confirm a [not the] covenant with [the] many for one week." I am aware that some apply this to Christ, But the Lord never made a covenant for a week or for seven years. It is impossible rightly to refer the words to any covenant the Lord ever made, much less to a covenant made since His death. "The everlasting covenant" is obviously the contrast, and not the accomplishment, of a covenant made for a week. Many apply it thus; but those who so interpret Dan. 9:27 have forgotten that Christ had been looked at as "cut off" in the previous verse.
"In the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease; and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate," etc. Here we have subsequent events of a totally different nature. How and when, it will be asked, are we to suppose this arrest of sacrifice and oblation? Who and whence is the personage who causes them to cease? Messiah, the Prince, and "the prince that shall come" — are they the same person, or different individuals? The history ends as to the Messiah with verse 26. "The people" of that coming prince were the enemies of Israel. subject to an opposed power, and not Messiah's people. In verse 27 the prince, whose coming was announced in verse 26, is himself come; and he it is who confirms a covenant with the "many," or mass of the Jews, for one week; but in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations, etc. The language may be somewhat obscure, but at least it is quite plain that there is to be a certain prince after the death of Christ, — a Roman prince — whose people first come for a desolation lone, accomplished, and at length he comes. After that he appears upon the stage, the last week of Daniel begins. This interruption between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks may seem strange, and people may ask, How can there be such a gap? But it is not without precedent. The same thing in principle occurs in Luke 4, when the Lord was reading in Isaiah. The portion read was the description of His own ministry in Isa. 61:1-2: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. … He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted … to preach the acceptable year of Jehovah. … And he closed the book." He did not finish the sentence. Why? Because, if one may reverentially answer, the prophecy went on with "the day of vengeance of our God." Proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord was what Christ did at His first coming, but it was not then the day of Jehovah's vengeance; so that the whole of Christianity and the calling of the Church came in between the acceptable year of Jehovah and the day of vengeance. When Christ came in humiliation and love, it was the acceptable year of Jehovah, and therefore He closed the book; but the day of vengeance is deferred till the Lord comes again in glory.
So here in Daniel, the sixty-nine weeks run on till Messiah is cut off, and then we have an evident gap. The destruction of Jerusalem is not included in the course of the sixty-nine weeks, and as evidently does not take place in the seventieth week. For if you interpret the last week as commencing from the death of the Messiah, this would only give seven years, whereas Jerusalem was not taken till forty years after the death of Christ.* The seventieth week had nothing to say to that siege, and in point of fact the wars and desolations were given before we arrive at the seventieth week, which is not named till the last verse.
*If, with Ussher, the death of Christ be put in the midst of the seventieth week, it appears to me that the confusion is only increased. For, in all fairness of interpretation, the last week does not begin to be accomplished until the city and the sanctuary have been destroyed by the Romans, not to speak of a course of subsequent desolation. So that the Ussherian view of verse 27 really puts the death of Christ at least three and a half years after the destruction of Jerusalem, if the latter part of verse 26 is duly considered. The truth is, the right understanding of the prophecy itself leaves room for, and supposes, a gap of undefined length after the Messiah is cut off, before the last week commences. It is certain that the Roman invasion and the Jewish sorrows that follow, exclusive of the closing dealings of the coming prince, are not in the sixty-nine weeks any more than in the seventieth. The text itself therefore proves this long interval.
In the last or 27th verse a covenant is made. Did Titus, did any Roman prince, make a covenant with the Jews for one week? And further it is said, "In the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease." This shows that there is to be a renewal of religious service by the Jews at Jerusalem in the latter day. Sacrifice and oblation will have been restored; and this prince, in spite of the covenant made with them, puts an end to all. And what then? Abominations, which means idolatry, are publicly set up and protected. They are to be brought into the sanctuary itself, which was not the case at the past destruction of Jerusalem. Then there was much appalling wickedness — every other kind of crime and madness, but no idolatry. Here, on the contrary, there is supposed to be the open support of idolatry in the temple. This does not answer to the capture by Titus, nor to the death of the Lord Jesus Christ; for at that time the unclean spirit of idolatry had departed out of the nation, which from the time of the Babylonish captivity, excepting the defilement of Antiochus, had kept clear of such abominations, and in that sense was "empty, swept, and garnished." But we know that unclean spirit is to return in greater force than ever. (Matt. 12:45.) Christendom and Judaism will each contribute to the last form of evil-antichristianism. You may remember that the Pharisees charged the Lord, when He was upon earth, with doing His miracles by Satanic power, and the meaning of the parable then given to them is really the history of Israel itself. The old unclean spirit had gone away. The people or their leaders were full of zeal for their ordinances. But what does the Lord say? That the old and long-departed unclean spirit was to return. And when it does, it will bring with it seven other spirits worse than itself. The Jews are to fall into idolatry, in union with antichristianism, and their last state will be worse than the first. (Compare also Isa. 65, 66.)
But let us now go back to the Revelation. There is this state of things in Israel — a measure of recognition on God's part, and worship going on, though the outward profession is given over to Gentile oppression. And remark, that the Lord says, "I will give [power] unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth" (verse 3). The Lord mentions them as so many days here, rather than as forty-two months, it would seem, to mark His value for their testimony. He makes, so to speak, as much of it as He can. He does not sum it together, as when speaking of the beast (Rev. 13:5). Lovingly he speaks of the time as days, as though He were counting them all out. "They shall testify a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth" — a testimony borne in sorrow. It is not Christianity, nor is it the state of things that will subsist after Messiah has appeared in glory. But it is the time of transition after the church has been taken away, and before it comes out of heaven with the Lord Jesus — the time when man will have brought in God's people to their land, at least the mass of them thoroughly unfit to be in relation with God. There is a little remnant of believing ones, there is worship, and besides a prophetic testimony, but evidently Jewish in its character. In Zechariah, though there are two olive-trees mentioned, there is only one candlestick; here there are two, because they are the two witnesses who prophesy of the coming earthly glory, but who do not bring it in personally. That is to say, it is not the regular order of God, but a proof that His eye is upon His people for good before full blessing comes.
"And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed" (verse 5). This shows that it was not proper Christian testimony, nor the corresponding practical fruits. It was the very thing the Son would not do when He was upon earth (save, of course, in the figurative sense of Luke 12:49), and that He rebuked James and John for desiring. (Luke 9:54-55.) Here, on the contrary, fire proceeds out of their mouth, and devours their enemies — a perfectly right thing when God is about to take the place of Judge on earth. But the Lord does not take that place now. He is saving sinners, and otherwise displaying full grace; and as long as He so acts, He does not desire His people to be the depositaries of earthly power. Thus, the miracles of His servants, during this time of the display of His grace, have not been of a destroying nature. The Lord might deal with a person now because of some sin, as with the Corinthian saints: I do not see why He should not at any time. But it would be foreign to Christianity and contrary to all that it breathes, if a saint, because another was evilly opposed to him, wished his death or injury. Christianity shows that the victory grace gives us is to show love and kindness to one's enemy. It may be heaping coals of fire upon his head; but such is the Lord's way — overcoming evil with good. Yet it is the Lord who here sanctions the destructive power which accompanies the testimony of His Jewish witnesses; for He says, "I will give [power] to my two witnesses … And if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed." it is what He means them to do — what evidently is to be done according to the thought of God. It indicates another condition, and not the Christian called to suffer unresistingly. It is the close of the age when Christianity will have done its work, and the Lord will again begin to act on the Jews.
Besides, their ministry and miracles have the same character as that which is attached to those of Moses and Elias. Thus they "have authority over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues," as in the time of Moses; and "they have authority to shut heaven that it rain not in the days of their prophecy," as in the time of Elias (verse 6). And in fact what will be found in these times answers much to what you have in Moses and Elijah. There was idolatry in Israel then and a remarkable testimony of Elijah against it. God Himself chastised His people — the heavens were as brass towards them. So will it be found again. The person who then sways the destinies of Israel will be an apostate who admits and enforces idolatry. Again, Israel will be found in subjection to Gentile authority, as they were in the days of Moses; yet there will be a little remnant set apart for God. But although these two witnesses are guarded for a certain time by miracles, yet the moment the days are over they have no power, so to speak. The beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit makes war with them, and they are killed like others.
"And their dead bodies [shall be] on the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified" (verse 8). It is perfectly plain that this is Jerusalem. Many think it is Rome, because as has been said before, Protestants are absorbed in, and biassed by, their controversies with Popery. God attaches the greatest possible interest to His people Israel, when His rights as to the earth are in question. But why is there not more said about Popery in the scriptures? Because God never acknowledges His church as an earthly people. The politics, pursuits, and interests of this world are well enough for those who have nothing but an earthly portion and want no earthly intruder; but to strive with the potsherds of the earth is beneath those of heavenly birth.
We have now come down in this chapter to Jerusalem, the centre of God's dealings and testimony, and of the opposition from the abyss. Their great antagonist is plainly mentioned here, for the first time in the Revelation, as "the beast," just as if you had known all about him before. It is a remarkable power, not merely arising, as in Rev. 13, out of the sea, but here, as in Rev. 17, said to ascend "out of the bottomless pit." This empire does not arise out of the earth, the symbol of a state of settled government, as the second beast in Rev. 13:11, nor only out of the sea, which sets forth an unsettled revolutionary condition. There is the extraordinary and awful feature added in this passage, that it rises out of the abyss. Satan has to do with its last state. It has been a darling project of men from time to time to form a vast universal empire. Charlemagne tried it, but he failed. He never got the old Roman earth under his hand. And some can remember another who had the same thing near his heart, but he too failed and died a miserable exile. But the time hastens when that very scheme will be realised. In other empires there has always been the providence of God overruling. There was God above them, God calling on His people to show allegiance to the powers that be, no matter how they were formed. The Christian was not to meddle with them, but to acknowledge them and to pay tribute. But there is an empire about to be formed, that will be as thoroughly under the immediate power of Satan, as all past empires have been under the providence of God; and God will withdraw that care and cheek that He has hitherto kept over the kingdoms of the world and will allow all to ripen to a head under Satan. Justly, therefore, is this empire said to arise out of the bottomless pit.
This corresponds with what we have in Daniel. The person that would specially meddle with the Jews (Rev. 7:25; Rev. 9:27) is the Roman beast, the leader of that very empire which in its last state God does not own. When Jesus was born, the fourth or Roman empire was there, and God took advantage of its decrees to bring the heir of David to Bethlehem. It was "the beast" that was there. In Rev. 17 it is written, "the beast that was, and is not, and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit" (verse 8). But observe a notable feature that Daniel does not furnish, and that John does. He gives three successive stages of the Roman empire. It was existing in John's time; then it was to cease; and last of all it should arise out of the bottomless pit, special Satanic influence being connected with its final state. The beast "that is not" describes exactly its present condition of non-existence. The Goths and Vandals came down upon it, and the old Roman empire came to ruin. Since then, men have never been able to re-organize it, because God has another thought. He has laid it down in His word that it is to be re-organized, not by man, but by Satan's power. Its sources will be from beneath. How remarkable is all this! We have had the decline and fall of the Roman empire, but there is one thing that no historian could trace — that prophecy alone could and does give; viz., the restoration of the Roman empire. May we see it, not as being on earth, but as looking on it from heaven!
I believe that those who reject the gospel now will, if then alive, be carried away by the dreadful delusions of that day. They will receive the ' mark of the beast in their right hand or in their foreheads; they will worship his image; and it is written by God that those who do shall be tormented in everlasting fire. The world may fancy, from all the increase of grandeur and prosperity and luxury which will be brought in then or previously, that the millennium is come; but it will be Satan's millennium. That is the fate reserved for these countries; for it is part of the righteous judgment of God, that where the gospel has been preached, and the world has trifled with it, even allowing idolatry for political purposes, He will withdraw the light and send them strong delusion And then Satan will bring out the man of sin. There is immense practical importance in all this. People may ask, "What is the good of it all to us as Christians, if we are to be taken away before?" Such a way of speaking slights what God has been pleased to reveal to us. When God spoke beforehand about the destruction of Sodom did Abraham say, What has that to do with me? God would have our hearts to be drawn out in praise and thanksgiving for His grace and His love to our own souls, but He tells us also the sad doom which awaits the world, and awakens the spirit of intercession as with Abraham for Lot for unfaithful saints who may be mixed up with it.
I would just remark, as to the two witnesses, that there is no necessity to take them as two persons: they might be two hundred. They are viewed as two witnesses (whether literally so or not), because it is a divine principle that "out of the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established. God was giving a sufficient testimony. These maintained Christ's title to the earth, that He was "the Lord* of the earth," and this excited enmity. "The beast" might not so much have cared if they had said "the Lord of heaven;" but they claimed the earth, not for themselves, but for Him, and men will not bear it.
* The received reading θεοῦ is not without the support of some cursives, AEth., Slav., etc. But all the uncials and most cursives, versions, and fathers read κυρίου. The former was probably due to the tempting antithesis τῳ θεῳ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, in verse 13.
Unbelief likes present enjoyment, and anything which interferes with this and makes conscience uneasy is hateful and unwelcome. And so, when the testimony is finished, and the witnesses are overthrown, not only the beast but two great parties of mankind are affected by their fall. "And some of the peoples, and kindreds, and tongues, and nations, see their dead bodies three days and an half, and do not suffer their dead bodies to be put into a grave; and they that dwell on the earth rejoice over them … and shall send," etc. (verses 9, 10.) It is not the first or the only time that we have this distinction drawn between "peoples, and kindreds, and tongues, and nations," and "those that dwell on the earth." The latter does not mean men in earth merely; it carries a moral force with it, and means those who are essentially earthly-minded, who do not in heart and ways rise above the earth. The dead bodies of the witnesses are on the street of the great city; and they of the people, and kindred, and nations see them there three days and a half, and do not suffer them to be put in graves. This was bad enough — being the malice of man against those who witnessed for God. But "they that dwell on the earth" go much farther. For in their case, there is positive rejoicing and making merry, and sending gifts one to another. And why was all this? Because it is said, "these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth."
This is not a mere imaginary distinction, nor only founded upon one passage. If you look elsewhere, you will find the same thing. Thus in Revelation 14:6, "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," there is the converse of what we have here. We first find the mass of the Gentile people, who show out their evil against the two witnesses by not allowing their dead bodies to be buried. But the special rejoicing is on the part of the dwellers on the earth, or the earthly-minded. But in chapter 14 we find God sends a solemn message, the everlasting gospel. And with whom does He begin? With the worst — "them that dwell on the earth," τοὺς καθημένους, literally "that sit," which seems stronger than τοὺς κατοικοῦντας, and then the message is extended to men generally. And on examination you will find this thoroughly confirmed by other passages. In other words, to "dwell on the earth" is not a mere vague description of men, but it expresses a moral condition.
But to return: God interferes. "And after three days and an half, the [or a] Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them. And they* heard a loud voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in the cloud; and their enemies beheld them" (verses 11, 12). It is not merely in a cloud (as in the authorised version), but in the cloud. I suppose it was the cloud seen in the beginning of Revelation 10, which encircled the mighty angel. The cloud, the known especial emblem of Jehovah's presence, was that which received the witnesses and proved that their Lord, the Lord of heaven as well as earth, was for them. They ascended up to heaven in the very face of their enemies. "And in 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." One word I would say, before going farther, on a remarkable distinction that occurs in this same verse. The witnesses testified for the Lord of the earth; but the people that were affrighted, when they saw how the cause of His martyred servants was vindicated, gave glory to the God of heaven. It will be then an easier thing for men to acknowledge God above in a vague sort of way, than to own Him as the Lord of the earth, concerning Himself about what men do here below. The former might be merely to regard Him as One seen in the distance; though in a higher sense I may know Him as One that comes down to give me a portion with Himself above. Thus God in heaven is either exceedingly near to His people, or far off to those who are merely acted upon by transient terror. The worldly man can well allow the thought of God afar from himself; and this is just what we have here. They were alarmed by what was near. But there was no reception of the testimony, no conversion. They should have bowed to the Lord of the earth. They gave glory to the God of heaven. But it is too late. There was slain in the earthquake "seven thousand names of men," as the margin gives it literally.
*The four best ancient uncials that are known as yet, ' A C P, with very many cursives confirm the received reading, which is rather strengthened, it seems to me, by the fact that elsewhere the book has ἤκουσα. For assimilation, under such circumstances, whether by accident or design, is far more probable than the introduction of a difference. If this be so, the sense is that the witnesses had a public and glorious vindication in the sight and hearing of their enemies.
First of all, we have seen the priestly remnant occupied in the worship of God — His holy remnant in the midst of the Jews in the latter day. After this we have the witnesses, who did not bring out on God's part what He is manifesting now, but asserted His rights with regard to the future, as prophecy naturally implies. Another remark I may here make. In the Revelation an expression occurs that has often been misunderstood. "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." The meaning is not that all prophecy refers to the Lord Jesus Christ (which in a certain sense may be true), but that the witness of Jesus such as this book contains — what Jesus testifies in the Revelation is the spirit of prophecy. It is the Holy Spirit as He is shown us throughout the book; not bringing into present communion with the Lord Jesus in heaven, but communicating what He is to do by and by. They, the witnesses, asserted the title of Christ to the earth. Whatever men might say, the Lord was the one to whom it belonged, and He would soon come and make good their record.
There is a third thing that the end of the chapter contains. Besides a priestly place, and then a prophetical testimony, there comes the kingdom. The trumpet sounds. And now it is not, as in the case of the witnesses, a proclamation fenced by miraculous power — that has come to a close — their own blood has sealed their work. But if it looked as if the beast had played an easy part in their death God points to another thine,: "The seventh angel sounded, and there were loud voices in heaven," etc. There is the announcement of a kingdom, heard not upon earth, but in heaven, and therefore, as soon as it is made, those that had the mind of Christ, "the twenty-four elders, who sit before God on their thrones, fell upon their faces and worshipped God." A little word I would desire to say upon this verse 15. As it stands now, it has a very weakened turn given to it: "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ." The true force is: "The world-kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ is come." This gives, in my opinion, a very different and weightier meaning to the verse. It is the world-kingdom; and why? Because this book has shown us from the very beginning that there was another order of kingdom altogether. In Revelation 1 John spoke of himself as a "brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience in Christ." Thus the kingdom of Christ is there, and yet characterized, or at least accompanied, by tribulation and patience! But the angel heralds in the kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ, as to this world. Previously it had been one only known to faith and calling for patience — a thing consequently that the world would not believe. Talk to them of a kingdom where people suffer, and where Christ allows them to suffer, instead of maintaining His rights! And this is exactly what God's children have been called to go through from that day to this.
But let me here say that this shows the extreme error of many good people who think it quite right to use earthly power in seeking to establish the cause of Christ. For, not to speak of Romanism but to look at Puritanism, they completely forget that the kingdom of Christ now is the kingdom of patience, and not of power. They judged because theirs was the right as they believed, therefore they ought not to suffer; whereas the only thing that God insists on is, that because the world is wrong and they right, therefore His children must suffer. Hence Peter testifies, "If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God." There evidently you have the great moral consequence of Christ's kingdom in practical things: a Christian is not buffeted because he is wrong, but because he does well. There is such a thing, even among God's people, as the being buffeted because they have gone astray. What was the trial of Lot? And what that of Abraham? It was to prove that the latter was faithful; but Lot's was because he was unfaithful. Not that Abraham was always true to God; but unfaithfulness with him was the exception, whereas I am afraid it was too often the case with poor Lot. No doubt, Lot was more happy in his outward circumstances. He was in the gate of the city, as we are told — sitting where he ought not, though where the flesh would like to be. We are not to suppose that he was drawn into the ungodliness of the community wherein he dwelt. No doubt he could expostulate very well as to the evil they were doing; but evidently he was in the place of dishonour, as far as God was concerned, though not in the commission of open sin, if we only think of moral conduct. He was delivered through God's mercy, but ignominiously. His sons-in-law remained behind; his wife was made a lasting monument of her folly and sin.
Abraham knew another kind of sorrow, the sorrow of a man that knew God, and that had come out at His word. We do find failure in Abraham, as for instance in Genesis 12 and 20. But though there were slips, still — looking at his spirit and walk as a whole — Abraham was a most blessed man of God, and a sample of faith to all, as God Himself puts him before us in Heb. 11 and elsewhere. He knew trial, because he was true to God and to his calling. Lot knew it, because he was grasping after some present thing, a place in the world. And what was the issue? A blow comes on that part of the world, and Lot was carried away by it; and all that he had set his affections upon was swept away, and only restored to him by Abraham's timely succour, to be lost for ever when the judgment of Sodom came. At the close a dark spot of shame fastens upon that man, and he had bitterly to learn that for the believer a worldly path is one of frequent pain and disappointment, which, if persevered in, ensures present sorrow, and leaves behind it alike seeds of misery and fruits of shame. We must have one or other kind of suffering, if we are children of God at all; either the suffering that comes upon the world, if we are unfaithful to God, or the sufferings of Christ because we confess Him.
Thus the seventh angel gives the signal that the mysterious form of the kingdom is at an end. Heavenly voices proclaim that this world's kingdom is become that of the Lord and His Christ. Instead of merely having a kingdom open to faith, and that none but believers value — a kingdom whose earthly portion is tribulation and waiting for the Lord, the only place that hope can take now — instead of this we have an entire change. God will no longer allow the world to be the camp, and parade, and sport of Satan; and when the seventh trumpet sounds, it is announced that this world's kingdom of the Lord is come. If it be objected that the Lord Himself in John 18 declares that His kingdom is not of this world, I reply that this is beside the mark This world is never the source of His kingdom; but is it not destined to be its sphere? It was not His kingdom then, but this does not prove that it is not to be His kingdom at some future time, when He will fight and His servants too, though in a new way. Here you have the positive word of God that the world-kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ is come. The sovereignty of the universe is transferred to the Lord Jesus: "And he shall reign unto the ages of the ages." Of course such a phrase as this must be taken in connection with the whole subject. When eternity is spoken of, it must be taken in its full and unlimited extent; but here it can only mean "for ever" in the sense of as long as the world lasts. And I feel, though it is not the brightest thought which our souls can enjoy in connection with the future, yet that the Lord Jesus is to take the throne of the world is a very great rest to the heart in all the present confusion. It lifts one out of the spirit of the present; because if I know that this is not the place of the church, but that I am now in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, I shall not be wanting honour or power in this world. We are to have a much better place in heaven, and the saints who will be on earth, when the Lord appears and we are with Him in glory, will be in the place of subjects. But what is the place of those who are in the kingdom and patience in Christ Jesus? We shall not be subjects merely of Christ when He thus comes, but kings reigning with Him. Even now those who are rejected for Christ are rejected kings. They do not merely sing, "He loveth us," but "hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father."
The Lord will have a kingdom suited to the earth; but the Jews are not destined to be kings. They will have on earth a very honoured place; but even when the nation is converted to Him, they will never have the nearness that belongs to every soul, Jew or Gentile, who believes in Christ now. Our portion may seem to unbelief to be a most trying one, and trying it is now. But the Lord Jesus has trodden the path before, and known suffering such as none other could. He has gone through it all, and when He comes and takes the kingdom, He will assign His sufferers their place. They will be like the near companions of David when he came to the throne; there was David in the cave of Adullam, and David hunted about upon the mountains by Saul; but it was David's faith, as a means, that had kindled the flame in their hearts. They caught the tone of David's soul; and though they had a time of sorrow, and there were many foolish men like Nabal who could taunt him with being some runaway servant, yet while David was rather quick to feel and too ready to gird his sword to his thigh, he takes a word from even a weaker vessel, and retreats into the better place of grace — the place of doing well, suffering for it and taking it patiently. And soon came the throne. What then? The poor ones that had known his path of suffering, and had shared his sorrows in the day of his rejection were now to share his honours. Where was Jonathan in that day? It is true that his heart clung to David, but his faith was not equal to the trial. And what was the consequence? He fell on the mountains of Gilboa with his miserable father; and he whose heart would willingly have given the first place to David, and who had already stripped himself for David's sake, now falls with the world with which he had outwardly remained to the last. Thus whatever may be our affection for Christ, if I remain in a false worldly position, it will never be to my honour in the day of Christ, when they that suffer shall reign with Him. May we wait for that kingdom with hearts exercised by the truth!
It will be found that there are many persons who hear reluctantly about the kingdom of Christ, professing always to like something touching more on the immediate need of the soul. But does not God know better what we want? What we most need is not to trust ourselves, but the living God. Always giving the first and last place to the cross of Christ, may we not forget that His kingdom is coming. Though the cross is the only resting-place for the sinner, the kingdom is what cheers and encourages the saint in his path of faith and patience. There were those that followed David in his sufferings — separated, wherever they went, from all around. They were gathered from all conditions, and out of all parts; but it was being round David, and sharing God's thoughts and purposes about him, which sustained them. Though God has anointed the Lord Jesus Christ for it, still He has not yet taken the kingdom in the sense of the world-kingdom that I have been speaking of. Having been rejected and crucified, He is gone above and we wait for Him, suffering meanwhile. But the day fast comes when it will no longer be tribulation and patience, but power and glory. All will be brought under subjection to Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever.
When this is heard in heaven, the twenty-four elders rise from their thrones (verse 16). How sweet is this! Before, when glory was ascribed to God, or the Lamb appeared, they rose and cast themselves down before Him. They were ready for everything that exalted the Godhead. If it be as the Creator (Rev. 4), they prostrate themselves before Him that sat on the throne; or if they hear of the slain Lamb who is about to unveil the secrets of futurity (Rev. 5), they fall down before Him and proclaim Him worthy.
So here now the last trumpet sounds, "the world-kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ" is announced, and forthwith the twenty-four elders are on their faces, giving God thanks, because He had taken to Him His great power and had reigned. It is true that it must be through much sorrow for guilty men. For the sword of judgment has to clear the way, that the sceptre of righteousness may have free course. "The nations were angry, and thy wrath is come," etc. But they knew well that, though man must come down with a crash, he will be exalted in the only true and enduring way in the kingdom of our Lord and of His Anointed. And so they give thanks to the Lord God Almighty, "that art, and wast [and art to come]" (verse 17). I beg leave to omit the last clause, "and art to come" — not as a conjecture (for conjecture on scripture is presumption), but because of what the best witnesses for the word of God really maintain. The clause, "and art to come," was put in to make it square with other passages which contain a similar phrase.
In the first chapter you may remember that the salutation was, "Grace unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come." All these three clauses are from God. They assert that He is Jehovah, the One that is, and was, and is to come; they are almost a translation into the Greek of the name Jehovah — One who is always the same. A similar phrase appears in Revelation 1:8, only there it is not John's salutation to the churches, but the direct word of God Himself: "I am Alpha and Omega, saith the Lord God, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty," evidently pointing to the unchanging continuity of His being. In Rev. 4 there is a little departure from the order given in the previous passages, and quite rightly: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come;" not "which is, and was," etc., but here, "which was and is." It may seem a slight change, but it is not without meaning. The emphasis in Rev. 1 is thrown upon the words, "which is," because God is presenting Himself as the ever-existing One. "Which was" is put first in Revelation 4, possibly because the living creatures (who had been the instruments of God's judgments in past dispensations, as they will be in the future) may look back upon the past, and therefore do not lay stress upon "which is," but begin with what God had been all through the past. Certainly they had been seen first at the garden of Eden as Cherubim (Gen. 3); next they formed a sort of representation of the judicial power of God in the tabernacle and in the temple (Ex. 25; 1 Kings 6); and then finally they were active when Jerusalem was swept away, and judgment came upon Israel. In Rev. 4, Ezek. 1, Ezek. 11 these living creatures, which had been the witnesses of God's ways all through, begin with what God was, the perfection of His being as, if one may so say, it had been historically unfolding. In Rev. 11 there is the omission of the words, "and art to come," perhaps because the arrival of the world-kingdom of the Lord is here celebrated, so that there was no need to add anything. Before He came in His kingdom it was appropriate; but it would be hardly suitable here. As I find that the best authorities reject the words, it is surely legitimate to try to show how the better reading harmonizes with the truth of God in the passage itself.
The general meaning of the next verse (18) is plain. "The nations were wroth, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged," etc., all which was to be executed afterwards. It is a sort of comprehensive view of what would take place from the beginning of the kingdom, when the various corruptions should be judged, and during the millennium up to "the end," when all judgment closes.
The three great thoughts then of this chapter, as we have seen, are priestly worship; next a prophetic testimony; and finally the kingdom announced in heaven as come. The Lord grant that our hearts, brought into the enjoyment of such privileges, may be with Christ, not merely because of the blessing, but for His own sake! Christ is better than all the blessings that come even from Him; and we shall never rightly enjoy what He gives, except in proportion as we enjoy Himself.
That the greater part of the chapter refers to the antipapal witnesses, crowned by the Reformation, though urged with confidence and with no lack of ingenuity, I cannot but regard as a total failure, involving in some places a sense not only different from, but the reverse of, the express language of the prophecy. Thus the giving of a reed like a rod to John is supposed to denote the royal authorization of the Reformer whom the prophet here impersonated. This is said to have been fulfilled after the death of Frederick, the Elector of Saxony, when his brother and successor John assumed to himself supremacy in ecclesiastical matters, and exercised it resolutely by forming new ecclesiastical constitutions, modelled on the principles of Luther, the example being followed elsewhere in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and afterwards in England. How singular that men of God should be so prepossessed with Protestantism, and so enamoured even of its blots, as to turn the word of God into a sanction of the very things in which the Reformers departed from scripture as widely perhaps as they did from Rome! I am aware that the application of the rod in this passage to the intervention of civil authority is at least as old as Brightman; but this ought to have given time for considering, and rejecting so unworthy a notion. Nothing can be simpler, it seems to me, than the truth intended. In prospect of the approaching divine government of the earth, Israel and their land become as ever the central object. The Lord therefore takes special cognizance of them, marking what He owns and what He leaves out. The outside multitude are disowned; account is taken only of those who worshipped within — a distinction far indeed from being true of Protestants in contrast with Papists. The reed was the instrument of measurement, not of gold (as for the heavenly Jerusalem), but "like a rod." There seems an allusion to Zech. 2 (and Ezek. 40:3), with just such differences as in the reference of verse 4 to Zech. 4. There it is a measuring line (σχοινίον γεωμετρικόν), and the entire city is to be measured. Here it is but a special part, measured by that which was not longer than a staff, which the Lord reserved as His portion during the crisis, the rest being profaned by the Gentiles for forty-two months. It is very far from being the due re-establishment of Jerusalem, but it is the little pledge of all that is to follow. A similar remark applies here as before. Precisely so far as the Reformers slipped into Jewish ideas and order, instead of falling back upon the true and heavenly peculiarities of the church of God, there may be an appearance of definite fulfilment. Had they walked in separation from the world, the author of Horae Apoc. must have lost a large proportion of his apparent identifications.
In the two witnesses, which is the next subject of importance, this comes out very clearly. Their earlier history is supposed to be retrospectively given, along with what remained to be fulfilled. As to their personality, we are agreed: they are not things or books, but persons who testify. But the testimony of Jesus, it is well to note, means not merely for Him, but the spirit of prophecy proper to this book. The gospel is not the subject. Further, the two olive-trees and the two candlesticks have nothing to do with the churches (or ἅ εἰσιν). That theme is completely closed, as we have seen repeatedly; and we are here avowedly in presence of the proclamation of Christ's title to land and sea. Hence, as it is added, these stand "before the Lord of the earth." In a word, the connection is not with the church-state, which then will have long past, but with the order predicted in Zech. 4, which undoubtedly refers to the millennial provision for the light of God in the midst of Israel.
Doubtless, there are points of distinction; for our chapter belongs in its full meaning to the interval after the rapture of the saints and before the thousand years. There is one candlestick all of gold in Zechariah, with its bowl, its seven lamps, its seven pipes, and an olive-tree on either side; perfect unity and perfect development. Whatever may have been the then historical accomplishment in Zerubbabel and Joshua, the two anointed ones of the Jewish prophet point in their fulness to the kingly and priestly offices of Christ, the grand means of dispensing and maintaining divine light in "the world to come." Here it is only a testimony to these things; and therefore, as the least sufficient testimony according to the law, there were two witnesses. The oil here is associated, not with joy, but with mourning; and the witnesses are clothed, not with the garment of praise, but with the sackcloth of affliction. Avenging power is theirs, like that of Moses and Elijah. How vain to bend all this to the witnessing Christians, Western or Eastern, earlier or later! Their calling practically was to resist not evil, to love their enemies, to bless those who cursed them, to do good to such as hated them, to pray for their persecutors; and this, as the Lord expressly illustrated it, after the pattern of their heavenly Father, who, instead of shutting heaven that it rain not, contrariwise sends it in indiscriminate mercy on just and unjust.
Of course, on the historical view (which in a general way I allow), the days of their prophecy are years, and the judgments must be taken figuratively. But how, if it be pretended that this is all fulfilled? Had the Paulicians and the Waldenses (supposing them to be true witnesses untainted by heresy) authority to withhold the dew of grace all their days, or to smite with plagues as often as they would? To curse the earth with a spiritual drought is still more tremendous than if it were in a physical sense, even though their power embraced heaven, earth, the waters, and their enemies. I perceive, however, that an effort is made to escape the difficulty of the devouring fire that issues from them, by referring to the final fiery judgment on the adversaries (H. A., ii. pp. 203, 407); but what can be lamer than such shifts? Present judicial power, continuous or occasional, against all opposers is the true and full meaning: like Elijah's in the midst of an apostate people, and like Moses' in the midst of a people oppressed and enslaved by the Gentiles. But as their testimony is prophetic and not the gospel, so it is armed with judgment instead of breathing grace. Righteous vengeance guards the claims of the Lord of the earth. Heaven is the source, centre, and home of grace. It is in the vaguest conceivable way that a delineation like this can be made to suit proper Christian witnesses; and it is chiefly the mixture of Jewish feeling and conduct, found alas! too often and especially in dark times, which lends a colour to such applications. I hardly like to notice the fancied coincidence of the black goatskin of the Vaudois and the sackcloth, or of the motto of the Counts of Lucerna (lux lucet in tenebris) and the candlestick.
But now comes another obvious and grave objection to the scheme of the Horae Apocalypticae. The natural meaning of verse 7 of course is, that when their 1260 days of testimony have expired the beast kills the witnesses. But this does not fit in with past facts. Criticism is therefore summoned to substitute an ambiguous word, so as to convey that after their death many of the days may yet remain to run out. Difficulties are pressed, but they are not insuperable. For the witnesses have an exceptional place, and therefore might be miraculously maintained for their allotted period, while saints generally were suffering and slain. And the beast's forty-two months might coincide with the 1260 days of the witnesses consistently with the brief interval of three and a half days' exposure and their rise and ascent to heaven, the earthquake, etc. For what act against God or His people is attributed to him afterwards? I know of none. So that it might still be true that their testimony and his "practising" close together, while a short space might intervene before the execution of God's judgments on the beast in the height of his triumph. In other words, the forty-two months define the epoch not of the beast's destruction, but of his being permitted "to work." Daniel entirely strengthens this conclusion; for we find in Rev. 12 an interval of some length after the three and a half years before full blessing comes.
It is extraordinary that a learned person should cite Gal. 5:16 and Heb. 9:6, as parallel with Rev. 11:7. For it is plain from the absence of the article that the first passage goes no farther than fulfilling flesh's lust. That is it could not mean the termination of the whole career of lust. The anarthrous usage here is, in fact, the strong and needed assurance that walking in the Spirit is the divine safeguard against fulfilling anything of the sort. In our text it is a definite testimony, of which the length had been carefully specified; and whether you translate it finished or completed, the full time is, it seems to me, necessarily involved. The passage in Heb. 9, every scholar must know, has no bearing on the case, because the tense implies a continued or habitually repeated action; while the tense in Rev. 10 implies an action complete or concluded. Indeed, it is plain that to the interpreters in general this word has proved an insuperable difficulty. Hence the rendering of Mede, "when they shall be about finishing," and so Bishop Newton. Equally offensive to mere grammar is that of Daubuz, "whilst they shall perform their testimony;" or the earlier view of Mr. Elliott,* "when the witnesses shall have been fulfilling." The truth is that, interpreted with simplicity, according to the regular meaning of the word and in harmony with the context, the witnesses are divinely protected the 1260 days of their testimony. Then, their mission having been completed, and not before, God permits that the beast should fight, overcome, and slay them. But this, applied strictly on the year-day scale, completely destroys Mr. E.'s interpretation in particular, if not the Protestant school generally, save that some of them refer a part as being yet unfulfilled to the future.
*Is it right to refer to Hippolytus, as if he agreed with Mr. E.'s idea of the witnesses making complete their testimony, long before the whole period assigned, or their own death? The very reverse was his belief.
Manifestly the previous dislocation of the prophecy leads to the next error, that "the great street of the city," or "the street of the great city" (verse 8), refers to Rome and not Jerusalem. Now, I am not disposed to deny that, on the prolonged view, such an application is left room for, especially considering the peculiar way in which the city is here alluded to. But this is the utmost which can be fairly granted, and it not at all excludes the closing fulfilment in the actual city wherein the Lord of the witnesses was crucified. The context seems to me quite decisive that Jerusalem is intended; for nobody doubts that, whether literally or figuratively understood, the holy city of the opening verses (the centre of the testimony, though in the face of profaning Gentiles) is not Rome but Jerusalem. It is agreed that the beast is Roman, but this in no way strengthens the theory that Rome is the city here intended. His making war upon the witnesses is, on the contrary, much more naturally applicable to a locality not under his own immediate jurisdiction. No doubt Babylon is the symbolic designation of Rome in Revelation 17, where Rome is confessedly the great city, and so of course in Revelation 14, 16. But Babylon has not been named as yet, and there is no reason why Jerusalem also should not be so styled; especially as the figurative terms, Sodom and Egypt conjoined, are nowhere else connected with Rome, and the fact which winds up the description ("where also their Lord was crucified") points to Jerusalem.* If it were said ἑκλήθη historically (or κέκληται, the present result of the past), there might have been more difficulty; for, though scripture had already likened Jerusalem of old to Sodom, it had not to Egypt. But the reference is to the moral features of Jerusalem, as it is to be in the days of the witnesses, and so καλεῖται is strictly correct. And certainly if Nineveh had the title as well as the Chaldean Babylon in the Old Testament, it is hard to see why, in the Apocalypse, Jerusalem might not have it as well as Rome, supposing that the context looks that way. Thus the question to what city our chapter refers must be judged by the conclusion to which we come as to all this part of the Revelation, and as to Revelation 10 and 11 in particular. The grand point is that the things which come to pass after "the things that are" do not belong (save in the general moral bearing already and so often acknowledged) to the present order of things, but to the transitional epoch when God is about to bring the First-born into the inhabited earth. Therefore He will then be busied with the provisional government of the world, and hence specially with the Jews, who are the prominent object and direct instrument of His earthly rule. Accordingly the witnesses, as we have remarked before, are said to stand before the Lord of "the earth;" for this is in question, not His ways with the church.
*Were the reading such as Mr. E. repeatedly represents it (of course through oversight), πλατειᾳ της π. της μ. (H. A., vol. ii. p. 409, note 4, and yet more incorrectly in vol. iv. p. 579, note 1), there had been no room for this rendering, which some very competent judges prefer.
Hence, whatever may be thought of the coincidence in mystic reckoning between the not very truthful speech at the Fifth Lateran Council, ("Jam nemo reclamat, nullus obsistit,") which in the skilful hands of Mr. E. is made to denote the extinction of the witnesses, and Luther's posting up his theses at Wittemberg three and a half years afterwards, which denotes their resurrection, I cannot but regard the interpretation as forced an unnatural. The only unbiassed way of taking the account is that the 1260 days were fulfilled when the prophets were slain. What more absurd than to imply that, in spite of their death, they are still safe and sound for centuries afterwards, and that the sackcloth testimony on earth can co-exist* with their ascent to heaven, understand heaven as one may? But once the Protestant scheme is made the exclusive fulfilment, can one be surprised that the marvellous explanations given to the earlier part of the chapter are only surpassed by increasing wonders in the latter portion? Certainly few councils had less claim to be considered made up of delegates from the peoples, and kindreds, and tongues, and nations, than that almost exclusively Italian assembly. Dean Waddington, who did not write for the purpose of illustrating Rev. 11, records that the Bohemian heresy "was again rising into formidable attention" at this very time. Who can think that the breath of the orator slew them? If they refused to answer the summons to Rome, John Huss had done the same before them, and Luther did so after them. It may have been want of courage; but Prague, Augsburg, and Worms were not the same thing as such a council held in Rome. I need not dwell on the enactment refusing Christian burial to heretics, the Pope's extraordinary donation of — not the golden rose only, but — the sovereignty of half the Eastern world to the King of Portugal, the grant of a plenary papal indulgence, the singing of the Te Deum, or the splendour of the dinners and fêtes given on the triumphant close of the Council.
*The alleged case of Rev. 7:1-2, has nothing, to my mind, in common.
But the deductions from verses 12, 13, must not be passed over. The call to the witnesses is made a summons from the highest authorities to ascend "the heaven of political elevation and dignity," and was fulfilled first by the pacification of Nuremberg (1532), and yet more by the Peace of Passau twenty years after. The cloud is conceived to imply that these political triumphs were the terminating result of Christ's special intervention, and to identify the cause of the witnesses with the Reformation. The effects of this mighty revolution in the overthrow of the tenth part of the city, and the slaying of seven chiliads,* are set forth as the fall of papal dominion in England, and in the seven Dutch United Provinces. And the ascending Protestants gave glory to the God of heaven, as on Mary's death, Elizabeth's accession, the destruction of the Armada, and the reign of William III. Thus, commercial and maritime and colonial power crowning Protestant England and Holland, it began to appear why the covenant angel planted his right foot on the sea, his left only on the mainland. Insular, missionary, England was to be the principal instrument of asserting Christ's claims to universal dominion and gospel truth against papal usurpation and lies. Could one ask for more palpable evidence of the absurd and mischievous effects of a wrong system? To refute such trifling with the word of God appears to me hardly called for. And what can we say to the delusion that the loud voices in heaven, under the seventh trumpet (verse 15), proceeded from "the religious world of the great Protestant powers?" Or that its general indications coincide with the more prominent characteristics and concomitants of the past French Revolution? (vol. iii. p. 338.) We must impute these extravagancies to the necessity of the case; for the text requires that the last woe should follow quickly after that of the Turks (verse 14). Hence the desire to make out something in the seventeenth century, because of the great Reformation of the sixteenth, so as to fill up the great gap that follows. It is the more strange, as Mr. E. had already (vol. ii. p. 474) made the seventh trumpet to include not the events alone, that are preparatory to Christ's reign, but the millennium itself, and even all other revealed events beyond it.
*Some readers will be curious to learn by what process of legerdemain these slain chiliads can be metamorphosed into the Protestant Dutch provinces which threw off the Spanish yoke. Cocceius threw out the notion first, but it was rejected by Vitringa and the more sober commentators, till Mr. E. re-asserted it. It is said that the Hebrew equivalent, alaph was used in the course of Jewish history for a tribal subdivision, without reference to that number, and even for the district in question. On this very slender basis, in conjunction with the old error of the Christian twelve tribes of Israel, all is founded. The fact is, that χιλιάς in the Apocalypse and the New Testament generally, is used in no such contradistinction to the numeral adjective. It is applied, in the simplest possible way, to soldiers, believers, and Israelites. It is said of angels, of men, and of a measure. Nor is there in the Septuagint the least real ground that I can see for taking the word in even one instance as a province, or territorial subdivision. Yet the substantive occurs more commonly than the adjective. The truth is that, according to the meaning of the verse, the seven thousand (or complete body devoted to death) fell with the tenth part of the city, not those there, and these here. And the affrighted remnant consists of the other inhabitants of the guilty city, in contrast with the complement of the slain in the sphere of the earthquake's ravages.
In verse 19 I think that the opening of the temple in heaven marks a new portion of the book, and that it is therefore connected, not so much with what went before, as with what follows; for it is clear that the verses before (15-18) gave the sounding of the last trumpet, and the announcement of the consequences of God's taking to Him His great power and reigning — not the mere sway of man, but the power of God put forth in an altogether new way. There was a sample of His power, but not in connection with Christ, at the time when He fought the battles of His people and put down the Canaanites. But then it was exercised within failing, guilty Israel, without their Messiah; and consequently that power was often obliged to be put forth against themselves, and not against their enemies only, because God can never have alliance with sin. But now, under the last trumpet, the kingdom of the Lord God and of His Christ was come, and this is what the earth looks for, and the Lord Himself too; for He is waiting "till His enemies be made His footstool" Then the whole scene here below will be changed. He will come and execute wrath as terrible as His patience has been divine; and the effect will be that, "when His judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." There will be the presence of the Lord Jesus and the absence of Satan; there will be, not only the execution of wrath on the living, but finally also she judgment of the dead. And these things seem to be brought together under the same trumpet. All is anticipated from the beginning of the kingdom to the end of it — all the main displays of divine glory in the government of both quick and dead. And there evidently the subject closes; for the opening of the temple of God in heaven (verse 19) ushers in another and wholly different vision, which has not directly to do with God in His kingdom, but here first of all it is a new theme that comes before us.