Revelation 12 - 18.
Under the seventh trumpet the elders anticipated the effects of the throne being actually established over the earth. But now the temple is again seen, so that we go back here, for we have God's purposes in connection with the Lord Jesus from the very beginning — the man child who was to rule all the nation with a rod of iron being clearly, as I think, Christ Himself. It is God reverting to His purpose in Christ, born as the heir of the world — not in relation to the calling of the church, but as the man of might, destined to govern all, and with no feeble hand. It appears to me that this accounts for another remarkable feature of the vision. Christ's death and resurrection are not alluded to, but His birth and His rapture (not His death) are given in a summary manner. We have the woman in pain to be delivered; and the man child is born; and then we have Him taken away to the throne of God above. Of course this is not given as history. The Lord Jesus had been born and had died long ago: if it had been history, His all-important death would not, could not, have been passed over.
Here it is plain the Holy Ghost connects the birth of Christ and His rapture to the throne of God in heaven with Israel and the purposes of God about them. The birth of Christ is of special importance to Israel. The genealogy of the Messiah is therefore carefully given in Matt. 1; and in Matt. 2 we find all Jerusalem was troubled at His birth. This was the working of the dragon. Herod was a sort of expression of the dragon's power, who would gladly have devoured the child as soon as it was born, through that evil king as his instrument. The child was delivered; but in the history, instead of being taken up to the throne of God, He was carried down into Egypt. So that our chapter cannot be regarded as historical, in the early part at least; and even where historical facts are alluded to, they are not arranged in order of fact at all, but simply linked with God's thoughts about Israel. The church as such is passed over. It may be involved mystically in the person and destiny of the man child, but there is no gradual unfolding of the thoughts of God as to His having a heavenly bride for His Son. Nothing is said about a bride for the man child. We have the mother, but not the Lamb's wife here. Israel was the mother of Christ. It was of them, as concerning the flesh, that the Christ was born. This is the great point which the apostle Paul urges on the Jews in Romans 9, because the Jews thought he made light of their privileges, and was against them, in consequence of the strong way in which he brought out God's mercy to the Gentiles. But it was not so at all. He demonstrates, in fact, that they overlooked their highest distinction. To them were given the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises. They had the fathers too, and last of all, to them was given a Son, the man child, whom they knew not — the Christ; for of them as to the flesh He came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Far from lessening the just glory of Israel, the apostle had a much more exalted view of it than themselves.
As in Rom. 9 Paul does not go on to speak of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, so it is here. Accordingly these two thoughts are connected in Rev. 12. The man child is brought forth, but leaves the scene where the dragon was opposed to Him, and takes His place upon the throne of God, which none but a divine person was entitled to do. By and by He will sit on His own throne, but that will be when He governs the earth in a direct and public way; for God will never give up the right and title of the Lord Jesus to the earth as well as to the heavens. He has acquired a title by redemption, besides His essential one as Creator. But then He is going to do much better than to rule all nations with a rod of iron, or even bless His earthly people. His heart is to be shown. He must have a free course and a due object for all His love. Christ wants to have those that deserve nothing but judgment as the sharers of His glory above. What is done by Christ and for Christ, whilst is He is upon the throne of God, is not alluded to here. Israel is in question. These few thoughts may be helpful to understand the proper place and bearing of this new vision.
The temple of God then is opened in heaven,* and there was seen in it the ark of His covenant, the pledge of His faithfulness to His people. For, as we have observed in the last chapter, there was a certain measured remnant that drew near to God in the way of worship, and to these witnesses was given a testimony to the Lord's rights over the earth, as finally there was the announcement of the kingdom. Now we have another train of idea. There was the throne, and a rainbow round about it in Rev. 4. Here there is the temple, and the ark of God's covenant seen in it. This may prepare the way for the difference between the two subjects. There it was God's power over creation. Providential judgments were about to fall upon the earth, and the rainbow was to show, before a judgment was experienced, that even then God would remember mercy. The rainbow round the throne in Revelation 4, and round the head of the mighty angel in Revelation 10 before the sounding of this last trumpet, guaranteed that God was working, not for the destruction, but for the deliverance of the earth. But now we come to a further point; for blessed as the throne is, it does not bring us into such depths of God's character, as do the associations of the temple and the ark. Displays of divine power are not so much what draw out our hearts in worship, as when we draw near to the dwelling-place and home of God Himself; for though there is no one thing we have so truly to be ashamed of as our poor and inadequate answer to His holiness, yet it is just there God has met us in His grace.
*The true reading may not improbably be ὁ ἐν τῶ οὐρανῶ which is in heaven. At any rate so the Alexandrian, and the Paris rescript, the Leicester, a Vatican cursive (579), the Middlehill, the Mortfort and one of the Parham (17) manuscripts say, not to speak of the Cod. Coislin. of Andreas and Victorinus: not so the Sinai, Basilian-Vat., and Porphyrian uncials, with the mass of cursives. Mr. E. is also quite wrong in saying that "according to Tregelles this is a mistake." It is true that, in his first edition, he inadvertently omitted to name this various reading, though long before noted by Walton, Mill, Bengel, (Wetstein probably,) and even adopted without question in the text, not of Wordsworth only, but of Lachmann, Tischendorf, Green, and it appears Tregelles also, judging from the new edition of 1859. How it was that Mr. E. did not find it in the critical editions of Griesbach and of Scholz, it is not for me to say: but there it unquestionably may be found by any who examine them. In Hahn's slight manual one could not rightly expect it given. To cite Rev. 15:5 where there is no difference of reading cannot decide one way or another as to Rev. 11:19, where there is such weighty testimony on both sides. The chief bearing of the later occurrence would perhaps be to encourage assimilation in a bold scribe. Besides the article is often dropped carelessly, and especially might be in such a form as this, where its force is not at first sight apparent.
Now He is going to show us not merely creation and mankind smitten, but Satan's connection with the final apostacy of this age. There had been a figurative allusion to his influence in Rev. 9:2, where smoke issues out of the abyss or bottomless pit; then, in Rev. 11:7, the beast ascends out of that pit; but here the evil source is thoroughly disclosed. And is it not precious to find that, before God discovers to us the tide of full evil, and shows us not merely the development and the instruments among men, but the great hidden spring of it all, and the person of him who puts himself at its head, and who is yet to work out this tremendous conspiracy against God — to find that before all this the temple of God in heaven was opened, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His covenant?* For the heart under such circumstances wants not the manifestation of God's power merely, but to know that His holiness is secured, and that in virtue of it His people stand. Accordingly we find that when the temple is opened above, it is not a rainbow that is seen, but God's connection with His people is set forth in the ark which now appears; for the ark was always nearest to God, and what faith therefore most clave to. Israel showed themselves to be dead to all right and godly feeling, when they were willing to expose it even in the hope of deliverance from the Philistines. The dying grief of Eli, and the living transports of David, alike show what the ark was in the eyes of the true-hearted. Here it is the ark of God's covenant in heaven; not merely that of Israel which might be taken away. Even the wise king did not adequately value the ark of old. And this shows the superiority of David; for faith is always, if I may so say, wiser than wisdom. If we had the largest human intelligence, and even the highest natural wisdom that God can confer, it never rises up to the height of simple faith. Solomon appears before the great altar. It was a magnificent spectacle, and he was an august king, and brought suited offerings. But David showed his faith in this, that it was not the altar merely which he prized, but the ark most of all. The ark was a hidden thing; not even the high priest could see it, save wrapped in clouds of incense. One had to walk by faith and not by sight, in order to appreciate the ark of God. Therefore David could not rest until the ark had its settled place in Israel; and he never had deeper joy than when the ark came back to Jerusalem. It is time that the ark brought judgment upon all who despised it, and even David's heart was afraid for a time, and the ark rested in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. But David regained the spring of confidence in God, which generally so marked his career; for we find him afterwards rejoicing when the ark was welcomed back more than ever he did in all his victories put together.
*Mr. E. remarks (iii. 308, note 4), "It is clear that this word ought to have been here translated covenant not testament. Indeed so I think, always in the New Testament specially inclusive of Heb. 9?" I should say in every place, except in Heb. 9:16-17, where the reference is clearly to the "inheritance" just named in verse 15. This, it seems to me, furnishes occasion to the inspired writer to found a fresh illustration of the all-important death of Christ upon the idea of a will or testament, which comes into effect only on the demise of the testator, τοῦ διαθεμένου. The latter word never means covenanting victim, nor do I believe it possible that it could. It was technically used for disposing of property. If these two verses be read parenthetically and with this sense, all is clear. I have no wish to speak dogmatically on a point so nice; but such is the view which commends itself most to me.
Here, it is not the ark of man's covenant at all, but of God's covenant; the temple of God in heaven is opened, not on earth yet (i.e. it is only the purpose of God about it); and associated with this the ark of His covenant is seen, the sure pledge of mercy, and sign of faithfulness to His people. But still the circumstances were such as called for judgment; and accordingly "there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail,"* all of which were the tokens of God's judgment. The day of peace and glory was yet to come. Thus you get these two things united: first, the pledges of God's interest in, and triumph for, His people; and then the signs of His judgment upon the evil that must be set aside before the time of full blessing.
*It is amazing that the true relation of this verse escaped the notice of so many able Christian men, owing perhaps to the mere fact of its being unfortunately tacked to the end of Rev. 11, instead of opening the new division commencing with Rev. 12. If Mr. Elliott had only observed it, he might have been spared much trouble; but then he would have lost the coincidence of the "great hail" with the storm in July, 1788!! and the "earthquake" of the French Revolution in 1789. But the hailstorm he had hitherto interpreted as an invasion from the cold north-east. Where is the consistency of this vaunted scheme? And what had the opening of the temple of God, or the sight of the ark of His covenant there, to do with the French democrats?
"And there appeared a great sign in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (verse 1). I think it probable there may be an allusion here to the well-known dream that Joseph had of the sun, moon, and stars, explained by himself as alluding to his parents and brethren. Here the symbols are more general, and naturally refer — the sun to supreme glory, the moon to that which is derived, and the stars to inferior or subordinate authority. All this is seen in connection with Israel; for God intends, as far as this world is concerned, all power and glory to circle round Israel. As for the church, she will have all in perfection with Christ, and in Christ; but as far as the earth is concerned, Israel will be the centre. The woman is the symbol of God's purpose as bound up with Israel.
In the next verse we have another thing; it is the man by the woman. And so we find that "being with child, she crieth, travailing in birth, and pained to bring forth;" and a little after we read (verse 5) that "she brought forth a man child who is to rule all the nations," etc. Thus we see it was not the woman who was of such importance for her own sake, though clothed with all these symbols of glorious power; but the reason is because from her comes the man child. And we shall find this thought is not at all foreign to scripture. Take for instance the Psalms, where the same thing is alluded to in a mystical way. Thus in Psalm 87 the word is that the Lord is exalted; His foundation is in the holy mountain. He is challenging the world to compare their best with what He can produce. "Jehovah loveth the gates of Zion," etc. He chose Zion out of all the cities of Israel, because God's sovereign choice must be carried out, even among His people. "I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me." Rahab was the figurative name for Egypt, and Egypt and Babylon were the most famous nations in the Psalmist's time. Philistia, with Tyre and Ethiopia, were, no doubt, powers of inferior order, but extremely celebrated for their trade, commerce, skill, etc. Of them it shall be said, "This man was born there." And of Zion, "This and that man was born in her, and the Highest himself shall establish her. Jehovah shall count," etc. I believe there is a dim allusion to the birth of the Christ, where God and His people glory so to speak, (whatever other men may have been,) that this man was born there. The reference is, I think, to the Lord Jesus chiefly, if not alone. Let others boast of their great men, but "Jehovah shall count when he writeth up the people, that THIS man was born there." When He writeth up the people, of whom does He think? Why of Christ; of the One that was born of the woman, born of Israel, and now caught up to heaven. When we are on the look-out for Christ, passages will be found to bear upon Him, more or less distinctly, all through scripture; for He who wrote the scriptures had Christ ever in view. It is not the death of Christ we hear in this Psalm, because this would have brought the sin of the Jews prominently before them. But it is His birth, which was or should have been unmingled joy. And therefore when Jesus was born, the heavenly hosts broke forth in praises, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will in men." There was no trouble among them, whatever might be the feelings of Herod and all Jerusalem. Their great joy was what Christ would be for God and men, and especially for the city of David: in other words, just the suited feelings of those heavenly ones, that were not occupied with themselves, permitted to see the counsels of God as to His people.
There is another scripture or two I would briefly refer to, where we may get help as to the meaning of this woman and her child, not merely as to the fact of the birth, but in its connection with prophecy. Micah 5 furnishes a passage that both acquires and gives light when compared with Rev. 12. "Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops; he hath laid siege against us; they shall smite the Judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek." The last words set forth, what we have not in the Revelation, the rejection of Christ and the dishonour done to Him by His own people. Then the Holy Ghost interrupts the course of the chapter by a parenthesis; for such is the whole of verse 2. "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting." It is Christ after the flesh who is God over all, blessed for ever. There you have the two points of the glory of Christ: His glory as a man, as Messiah; and withal, the One whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Then having shown who this was (the man to be smitten but a divine person, which had made the sin of smiting Him unpardonable, if it had not been for infinite mercy), He takes up again what we had in the first verse. "They shall smite the Judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek … Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth; then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel."
Mark the term of their being given up by God — "until the time" of the birth. This shows that we are not to take the allusion to the birth of the man child as a literal reference to Christ's birth into the world, but rather in conjunction with the accomplishment of the purposes of God respecting Israel. Christ was born (Micah 5:2): then comes His rejection, and, as it were measuring His rejection on earth and His exaltation in heaven, the calling of the church. But the prophecy here passes by all that has to do with the church and takes up Christ's birth figuratively, connecting it with the unfolding of the divine purposes, which is itself symbolized by a birth. The Judge of Israel is smitten with a rod upon the cheek, and therefore Israel is given up until the time when, to use the language of Jeremiah, Jacob's trouble is come, but he shall be saved out of it. Here it is put figuratively, as Zion travailing till the birth of this great purpose of God touching Israel. "Then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel." All the time the church is being called, the remnant of the Jews ("those who should be saved") are taken out of Israel, cease to look for Jewish hopes as their portion, and are absorbed into the church. But when God's earthly purpose begins to take effect in the latter day, the remnant of that time will form part of Israel and will resume their ancient Jewish place. The natural branches shall be grafted into their own olive-tree.
Another scripture speaks of Zion's bringing forth; but it is of a very different kind. In the last chapter of Isaiah the allusion is to a birth, but there it is said to be in one day. "A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of Jehovah that rendereth recompence to his enemies. Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child. Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith Jehovah: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? saith thy God. Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her." It is evidently not the time spoken of in Rev. 12. So that it is plain that there are three chief critical points connected with Israel's history. First, there is the birth of the Messiah; secondly, the passage in Micah, the ripening and effect of God's counsels regarding Israel, which is to be connected with Rev. 12 where God brings out His purpose concerning Israel, before the beast and antichrist are shown fully; and, thirdly, this passage in Isaiah 66 which is a sort of contrast with the others, the circumstances mentioned being the express reverse of those that accompany natural birth and of the figure used in our chapter. The three passages may be put together thus: — first, Micah 5 shows us the birth of Christ, and Israel given up till the result of God's counsels as to them shall appear by and by; next, Rev. 12 unfolds the time of sorrow* just before the last tribulation, when Satan, losing his old seats, attempts new plans in order to frustrate God's design to bless and magnify Israel; and then, lastly, Isaiah 66 is the time when all sorrow is past, and when before Zion travailed she brought forth — Israel's full and sudden blessing after the Lord has appeared. All previous sorrow flees away by reason of the joy that fills the city of Zion, or is only remembered to enhance it.
*Some, shrinking from the hypothesis that the birth of Christ is here alluded to, as being at variance with the exclusively future bearing of the Apocalypse incline to the view that the parturition of the woman means, in symbol, the formation of Christ in the hearts of Israel, or a certain part of them, before the final crisis. (Compare Gal. 4:19.)
But now, going back to our chapter, we find that, besides the woman and the man child, there is another sign; a great antagonist of God appears — not the beast, but a much more serious power — "a great red dragon." And there is this remarkable circumstance — the same description which is applied to the beast is used of the dragon. How comes this? That Satan is the great red dragon there can be no doubt; this very chapter tells us so in verse 9: and yet he is described with the various characteristics that we find in the Roman empire (Rev. 13:1), "having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns." I believe the reason is, that Satan is viewed in connection with earthly power. Just as the woman was seen invested with symbols of power from above which God has given her, so here Satan is clothed with the fulness of earthly authority. He has seven heads, the symbol of deliberative power, that which rules and guides, and ten horns, the symbol of kings or kingly dignities. He is the prince of the world, who surrounds himself with all power connected with the earth. The Roman empire is the grand representative of the power of Satan. But when we look at that empire in Revelation 13 we see this difference. The crowns were upon the heads of the dragon, but upon the horns of the beast. That is, in the Roman empire we have the exercise of the power represented as a matter of fact, but in Satan's case merely as a matter of principle or the root of the thing. Satan is the great moving spring, though unseen. It is a question of source and character, not of history.
First, then, we have had the thought and plan of God in respect to Israel and Christ. And it is plain that it is the destiny of the man child, not as yet the exercise of His dominion over all the nations; for if it were the latter, the woman would not have to flee to the wilderness, nor would the dragon be permitted to make war on her and the rest of her seed. To apply this historically is to entirely miss the teaching of God, who is here showing out His purpose, and no more as yet. Then the dragon appears, the one that God looks at as the ruler of this world, the prince of the power of the air, clothed with the same symbols of earthly power as we find later on in the Roman empire, save that in this last the crowns are upon the horns, or those actually swaying the power. (Rev. 13.) "And his tail draweth the third of the stars of heaven" (verse 4). This seems to be his malignant power in the way of false teaching and prophesying. In Isaiah 9 we are told that "the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail." The tail of the dragon does not set forth his earthly power, but his influence, through false teaching, in misleading souls, and specially those that were in the place of rule and authority — "the stars of heaven." "And the dragon stood before the woman that was about to bring forth, that when she brought forth he might devour her child." How wonderfully all scripture hangs together! For if you begin with the very first portion of scripture that speaks of the serpent, the woman and that subtle foe are seen face to face; and more than this, God appears on the scene where Satan had apparently gained a great triumph, and then it is that He gives the blessed revelation that "the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head." Here, at the close of scripture, the same parties reappear, but with marked differences. In the garden of Eden it was the serpent's success, but here the certain triumph of God; there it was the devil's craft, but here it is God's power, long displayed in patience, but all-glorious in the end. God permits the dragon to stand before the woman, ready to devour her child as soon as it was born. The dragon shows out his spite and wickedness to the last degree and in the next chapter his plans. Meanwhile, God turns even the suffering into more positive blessing for the faithful. The very certainty that He could crush the dragon gives Him patience to wait, and He wants His people to be like Himself.
I would just observe that we must not take the chapter as if it were all consecutive. Verse 7 begins a new division. And a proof that all does not follow in immediate order is this; the casting out of the dragon from heaven unto the earth precedes the woman's flight into the wilderness, and is in point of fact the reason of it (see verse 13), though only stated afterwards. The truth is, that the first six verses give us the complete picture. In the divine purpose, there is the woman clothed with the heavenly orbs, setting forth the power which God alone can confer. But there is another side of the picture. When the man child is brought forth, the mother is seen in weakness, and is obliged to fly for her life into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared of God.* God thinks so much of the time she spends there, that He does not call it "a time, times, and a half," but counts up, so to speak, every day she is there, "that they should feed her there a thousand, two hundred, and threescore days." Then comes a new scene in verse 7. It is no longer what takes place on earth, but in heaven, as it is to many a new thing, and startling. A war is intimated on high. How is that? A war in heaven? It is an easy thing to imagine the enemy of souls upon the earth, and a war with him there. But the war begins elsewhere. "And there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven."
*It is true that εἰς may be translated unto or towards, no less than into: to decide which is meant, we must carefully examine the nature of the case, and the context. But Luke 9:56-57, in no wise proves that the woman was fleeing merely towards the wilderness; because we have various occurrences related immediately after the evangelist says that they proceeded unto another village — occurrences expressly said to be while they were on their way. So with Acts 8:25; Acts 18:18, etc. The two wings of the great eagle convey the very reverse of a gradual movement thither. Nor does the parenthetic account of the war in heaven confirm the notion of progressive stages.
If the Bible is implicitly believed, its intimation is distinct that Satan has power to draw near, and to accuse the saints before God. People may be staggered, and say, it cannot be; but it is better to be guided by the word of God than by the notions of men. The book of Job shows it; 1 Kings 22 also, and perhaps Zech. 3. You may say that these are visions; but we take the Epistle to the Ephesians, and there we are told by St. Paul that our conflict is not like that of Israel, who fought with the Canaanites. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world (or the world-rulers of this darkness), against spiritual [powers] of wickedness in heavenly places." Some use this verse in order to justify Christian persons resisting the powers of this world, in plain contradiction of Rom. 13 and other passages. But the principalities and powers in high places, in Eph. 6:12, do not mean men at all. They are evil spirits, in contrast with men. The conflict of Israel was with living men on earth, while that of Christians is with wicked spirits in heavenly places. Of course, Satan cannot draw near into the immediate presence of God, into that light wherein God dwells, which none can approach unto; but he can draw near enough to accuse God's people before God Himself. The heavenly places here mean the heavens in general, and not merely what is called the third or highest heaven. As far as the lower heavens extend, Satan has access; there can be no doubt that he is prince of the power of the air.
Israel had to fight in order to acquire possession of their inheritance. The land was given to them in title, and before Moses was taken away from this life, the Lord Himself took him to the mountain-top, and showed him all the land of Gilead unto Dan, etc., calling the districts by the names of the tribes of Israel, as if they had been already there. But in order to enjoy their possessions, they had to fight for them; and so have we now. There is no such thing as enjoying the heavenly portion of the church without conflict with the enemy, and that is the reason why so many do not enjoy it. If the Christian does not enter his full heavenly portion here below, it is because he is occupied either with himself or with the world, or some other idol of the enemy, and then he cannot enjoy it. The great object of Satan is to hinder our enjoying, tasting, and living on our heavenly blessings in Christ; and in the same proportion that the world or the flesh is allowed, and so the door is left open to Satan to darken our eyes, we cannot see the goodly land. There must be victory over Satan before we can enter in. The adversary has not merely power through men's lusts below, but specially in connection with the heavenly places — power of hindering Christians from appreciating their portion here. But there is an end coming to that, though not without a struggle. God will put a stop to all Satan's means of access to heaven.
There is a text, often found obscure, that I cannot but connect with this. In Hebrews 9 where the various applications of the death of Christ are spoken of, there is the following allusion to the heavenly places: "It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these." One reason, I suppose, is because Satan was allowed so long to have access there as an accuser. God would long since have shown His own sense of the defilement produced there by the foe, if it were not for the death of Christ. But as He bears with the rebellion of the world, so does He also with another rebellion, the audacity of Satan, who ventures to intrude himself even into His own presence, to carry the accusations of His people before Him. But let us not forget that if there be one who loves to accuse, there is another to intercede, the Advocate, who never slumbers nor sleeps. There may be the devil against the saints, but there is Christ for them, who ever lives to make intercession. By and by God will not allow Satan any longer to taint the air of heaven. He is forcibly cast down thence, and has only power to deal with mankind in an earthly way. "Woe to the earth and to the sea! for the devil is come down to you" (verse 12), etc. — that is, to those nations who are in a settled or in an unsettled condition. Satan is henceforth entirely prevented from usurping his higher place, as prince of the power of the air. The heavens will then be cleared of him and his angels, never to regain their place above. He may come out on the earth again for a little season, after he has been bound, but he will never more appear in heaven as the accuser of the brethren before God. The momentous difference in the ways of God with His people is very marked here. All through the present time the accuser has a place in heaven, but at the predicted epoch he is cast out, and his place is not found any more there. Now, you will observe that this naturally, not to say necessarily, supposes the removal of the church to heaven before the change takes place; and for this reason, that if we suppose the church to be still on earth, when the devil and his angels are cast out of heaven, it would no longer be true of us that we wrestle with wicked spirits in heavenly places. Such will not be the condition of the saints, either during the millennium or in the great tribulation that precedes it.
Three years and a half roll on their course, after Satan is cast down to the earth, during which the woman and her seed (that is, Israel) are the objects of his persecution. "And the great dragon was cast [out], the old serpent that is called the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast unto the earth, and his angels were cast [out] with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast [out] that accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life unto death" (verses 9-11). "The blood of the Lamb;" this was what kept their conscience good, and gave them confidence before God. Their conscience was purged by the blood of Christ, and, besides that, they had their testimony for God. He gave them the blood of the Lamb as well as the word of their testimony, and they overcame by both. The one cleansed them before God, the other they held before men. "Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them." There are at this time dwellers in heaven, and they are to rejoice because Satan is cast down from heaven. The church is on high at the time of which John speaks; the saints are already taken away from the earth. "And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman who brought forth the man child. And to the woman were given two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent" (verses 13, 14).
Now, it is plain that this brings us back to verse 6. The important link given us in verses 7-13 was needed, and after that we have consecutive order. We are brought down to the fact of the dragon's persecuting the woman and her child, and the woman's flight into the desert; and then the Spirit of God goes back to show us the deeper reasons, and higher source of all. Satan will have to leave his place in heaven, and now in a rage, "knowing that he has but a short time," he comes down to the earth to do his worst. He hates the woman, well knowing her seed is to crush him; so that all his long-cherished enmity is concentrated upon the woman and her seed. This is what leads the woman to flee into the wilderness. The enmity of Satan, not merely because she has brought forth a child destined to rule all nations with a rod of iron, but because Satan is cast down to earth. Satan was once innocent, but he departed from the place of a creature, admiring himself, and setting himself up against God. Now when Satan is cast down from heaven, he shows out all his evil feeling against God, by persecuting the woman and her seed.
"To the woman were given two wings of the great eagle," etc. Observe the difference here (analogous to Rev. 11), "where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time." In a former verse the time seems to be made, as it were, as long as possible, because, as I conceive, God's care for her was then the grand point. She had a place prepared for her of God, and when His care and preparation are in question, He lengthens out the time as much as possible; but where it is a question of the devil's power, He foreshortens it. It appears to be the same period, only put in a different way.*
*Dr. M'Causland (Latter Days of Jerusalem and Rome, pp. 314, 326) conceives that the 1260 days, forty-two months or three and a half times, are but abstract indices of the indefinite period of the present dispensation during which the Jewish body continues, like its type Elijah, in the wilderness, unvisited by the dew of the Spirit. Primasius in early days contended for a somewhat similar view; but while he thought that the dates were intended to include the period of the Christian dispensation, he also allowed their literal application to the final tribulation.
The serpent, so spoken of because of his subtle enmity, now adopts a new device. He "cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman," etc. (verse 15, 16.) This sets forth some providential means used of God to deliver His earthly people and purpose from the instruments of the enemy, then put into a state of great commotion. These last are represented by the waters issuing as a river from the dragon's mouth (people that are under the immediate influence of the devil); while evidently the earth helping the woman means the more settled parts of the world, used providentially to resist the efforts of Satan to overwhelm the Jews. "The earth" in this book may have morally a guilty character; but God can create a diversion where He sees fit, and so bring to nought that which is calculated to overwhelm His people.
"And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the remnant of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus" (verse 17). It might be a difficulty to some that a Jewish remnant should have the testimony of Jesus. But if you have followed me in former chapters, it will not be insuperable; because "the testimony of Jesus" in the book of Revelation is always of Jesus coming back again as the Heir of the world, and not of His relations in full heavenly grace that we know now. The Jewish remnant will not enjoy the same communion with the Lord Jesus that the church actually possesses; but they will stand in faith, and they will have the testimony which Jesus is rendering in the Apocalypse. In Revelation 1 we read, "The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass," etc. It is, we have often seen, a certain revelation which God gave to Jesus, connected with events that were shortly to come to pass. This in the next verse is called "the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ." So in Rev. 19:10, "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy," which shows clearly that it is a prophetic knowledge of Jesus. Thus the testimony rendered in this book, though equally divine, differs from the blessed way in which God unfolds Christ now to the church which is His body. The remnant will have such a knowledge as the saints in the Old Testament times possessed — greater probably in amount, but similar, it seems to me, in kind. They will be waiting for Jesus to come. They will say, with penitent hearts, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of Jehovah." They will plead, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood?" I do not deny that they may have the New Testament before their eyes; but there will be no power to apply the New Testament facts to their own souls, as far at least as present peace and communion are concerned. What a proof that not merely the word is required, but the Holy Ghost to open it out, for the rest and enjoyment of the soul!
Some of us, even as Christians, have had no light as to certain truths, until in the grace of God He was pleased to remove the film from our eyes. And God does this ordinarily by specific means; for it is not His way to enable persons to take up the Bible and understand it, independently of His provision for the perfecting of the saints. God teaches His children, but in general it is through those He has given for the good of the church, and, though never tied down to that order, He does not set aside the wise and gracious arrangement that He has formed and will perpetuate as long as the church endures. Nourishment is ministered by joints and bands, and thus all the body knit together increases with the increase of God. What would enable us to do without one another is a thing that God never gives or sanctions. Supposing a person were cast upon a desert island, God would bless him in his solitary reading of the word with prayer; but where there are other means and opportunities, such as assembling ourselves together for instruction, for reading the scriptures, for public preaching, exhortation, etc., to neglect or despise them is the will of man and not the guidance of the Spirit of God.
These saints, like those of old, will fear Jehovah, and obey the voice of His servant, but withal must walk in darkness, and have no light, till the Lord returns in glory. Our place is identified with that of Christ Himself, risen and glorified. Compare Isa. 50:8-9, with Rom. 8:33-34, for the latter, and Isa. 50:10-11, for the former. Christians may not always act according to the light, but they walk in the light, as He is in the light. "He that followeth me," says our Lord, "shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." The remnant of that day will trust in the name of Jehovah, and stay upon their God; but it will be after another sort. Thomas in John 20, as compared with the other disciples, may illustrate this.
And now let us briefly notice the historical theory, as stated by one of the latest and ablest of its advocates. The woman is, of course, the Christian church, which is actually said to be not merely united as one, but morally bright and beautiful in the days of Constantine! ascendant for the first time in the political heaven; with the sunshine of the highest (Constantine) of the three imperial dignities, and the light of the second (Licinius); and with the chief bishops as a starry coronal, the heads, now imperially recognized, of the δωδεκάφυλον of the Christian Israel. (Horae Apoc., iii. pp. 17, 18.) Three pages after, the civil authorities are viewed as the moon, perhaps because of Licinius's apostacy and subsequent death. And the great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns is the old Roman paganism, concentrated for the time in Maximin's prohibiting the Christian assemblies, and even killing their bishops in his third of the empire. Again, Constantine reappears as the man child — a baptised (?) emperor, the son of Christ's faithful church, elevated over the whole empire to an avowedly Christian throne, that might be called the throne of God like Solomon's. And the ruling with an iron rod means the discountenance of pagans increasing almost to oppression, till at length, under Theodosius, all toleration ended, and their worship was interdicted under the severest penalties. But Mr. E., apparently not quite satisfied with this exposition, offers us the alternative of Mr. Biley, who thinks that the question here was one of fundamental orthodoxy, rather than of political eminence, and that the birth and exaltation of the man child refer to the solemn public profession of Christ's divinity, and its dogmatic establishment in the general Council of Nice.
Where is one to begin, where end, in unravelling this tangled web? Almost the only thing consistent is the melancholy result (God forbid that I should say intention) of degrading the living word of God. If something like the real point of the chapter is glanced at, it is to discard it summarily. Thus, it was too plain to be quite overlooked, that Christ is destined to rule all nations with a rod of iron (Psalm 2), and that this is made part of the promises to the Christians who overcome. (Rev. 2.) But all such reference Mr. E. considers excluded by the context. For, argues he, the woman is shown immediately after to be persecuted by the dragon, and then to spend 1260 days in the wilderness. But how does this set aside the other — the figure of Christ, take it personally or mystically, as the destined governor of all the nations? On this view, what can be clearer? The woman is Israel, first seen in heaven in the glorious purpose of God, and hence arrayed with that supreme power which is to rule the day, with the moon — which, from the context, may here be a symbol of legal ordinances — under her feet, and with the perfection of administrative authority as her crown of glory. It is not a question of historical fact, but of divine counsels. Accordingly, in spite of such a view on God's part, the woman is seen the object of Satan's enmity in the Roman empire, who, foiled in his wishes against the raptured Man of might, directs his efforts against the woman, or Israel, fled into the wilderness, desolate but preserved of God for her destined time of sorrow. I do not deny here, more than elsewhere, a vague analogy to the imperial overthrow of the power of the enemy in idolatry. All I insist on is, that the past accomplishment in no wise meets all the features of the case, and that the system which sees nothing else really makes God Himself the author of that judaizing of the church which, kept in check by the apostolic power, soon became doctrinally rampant in the writings of the early fathers, and from the time of Constantine was the established mould in which the Christian profession was cast. Hence, historically, the date does not at all answer. Mr. E. seems to be shy of defining the 1260 years of the woman's place in the wilderness. He considers the time soon after Constantine when the true orthodox church became insulated, invisible in respect of its public worship, and more and more straitened for spiritual sustenance: the latter a most unusual effect of persecution; the former an unaccountable result, if the eldest son of the true church had the chief power in the empire, and the old paganism of Rome showed itself — not in a thousand years and more of persecution, but — in the mere transient efforts of Maximin and Licinius first, and of Julian somewhat later.
And if heathenism and Arianism are strangely put together to make out the war of the dragon and his angels in heaven, what can serious Christians think of the notion that Eusebius's extravagant flattery of Constantine, and the unwarranted joy and expectations of the dominant party of that day, are the exact echo of the prefigurative voice heard saying, "Now hath come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ?" Certainly I do not wonder that the eye which can see in Zech. 3 compared with Ezra 4 a reference to the accusation of the Jews before the Persian king's court by their Samaritan foes, should read the fulfilment of "Rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them," in the imperial edict which proclaimed liberty to those who had been enslaved or condemned to the mines. (Horae Apoc., vol. iii. pp. 29-32.) Of similar character is the criticism, borrowed from Daubuz, that the use of the uncommon plural from heavens, instead of heaven, indicates the then union of elevation in heart to the spiritual heaven, and elevation and dignity to the heaven of worldly rank.
Then again, when we turn from the parenthetic heavenly war, and its consequences (verses 7-12) to the dragon's doings on earth, we are told that the two wings of the great eagle were fulfilled in Theodosius the Great, whose lot it was to unite the Eastern and Western divisions of the empire under his own sway, and use all his power as a protector and nursing father to the orthodox church. Under these wings Augustine's ministry is said not only to have furnished present food, but nourishment for its long long sojourn in the wilderness. How the dragon, or old Roman pagan power, should now have the seven heads and ten horns, from Constantine to Theodosius, does not appear. It is to the historicalist an obviously insuperable difficulty, as to which I see not a word of explanation, even in the most voluminous commentary that defends the view. And supposing e.g., that Theodosius could be the sun, the male child, and the great eagle's wings all at once, it is hard to connect the dragon with the governing power of the Roman empire in that day. Does "the pagan remnant" answer to the persecuting dragon, as our chapter describes him? I do not wonder also that it is found convenient to combine all possible ideas of the flood from the serpent's mouth, and to make that a mixture of foreign invaders and heresies, of physical force and doctrinal error, employed to overwhelm the true church, so as to pass off a hazy application to the hordes of Goths, Vandals, etc., who inundated the empire after the death of Theodosius. But "the earth helped the woman," i.e., according to Mr. E., the Roman population, superstitious and earthly as they are confessed to have been, did service to Christ's church; and in their bloody wars the barbarians were so thinned, that their incorporation with the conquered followed, and their religion passed through Arianism into orthodoxy. The flood was thus swallowed up! If some very few stood forth as witnesses, like Vigilantius, etc., against such the dragon proceeded to plot, and so procure their destruction. To state the scheme is in my judgment a sufficient refutation.
On the other hand, the fulfilment in the crisis is sufficiently intelligible, whatever measure of partial resemblance there may have been in past events. The seventh trumpet has brought us down in a general way to the very end. From Rev. 11:19 we begin an entirely new subject, of which that verse is as it were the preface. The ark of His covenant is seen in His temple above: it is not yet the actual bringing of the house of Israel and the house of Judah under the efficacy of the new covenant but it is its pledge. The sources of all, whether on God's part or the enemy's, are disclosed; and hence, as there confessedly is retrogression, so I think there is nothing harsh in the supposition that the birth and rapture to heaven of Israel's Messiah may be shown the special object of Satan's hatred, and the occasion of his intensest and ever-increasing hatred to the Jews and to God's counsels about them. I can also understand that the rapture of the man child may include that of the church — like a binary star, the two-foldness of which appears on adequate inspection. It is thus in the Old Testament that we find the church involved, so to speak, in Christ. The first great act of our Lords kingdom will be, I believe, the dejection of Satan and the wicked spirits, from the heavenly places (cf. Eph. 6:12, and Rev. 12:7-12). On earth the question of Israel, God's chosen people, is raised at once; and whether as dragon or serpent, all his resources are put in requisition against God's purpose in that people (yet in abeyance), and against the godly remnant who have the testimony (prophetically, I conceive) of Jesus, as the man of God's right hand, the Son of man whom He made strong for Himself. The development of his plans we shall find in the chapter which follows.
We have seen that Revelation 12 goes back as well as forward, and connects the purpose of God which is to be brought out in the latter day with the Messiah and even with His birth. Thus, while the Lord Jesus Christ is to my mind clearly referred to as the man child, yet it is not His birth merely or historically, but His birth as it is linked with this future plan of God, which the book reveals here. The moment Christ is thus referred to (that is, Christ evidently viewed as the Head, not of the church, but of Israel ruling "all nations with a rod of iron," and taking the government of the world into His own hands), Satan appears in personal opposition. It is no other than might be looked for; for God Himself had said in the garden of Eden, that He would put enmity between the serpent and the woman, between his seed and her seed. This was revealed at the beginning, and here we have it fulfilled at the very close. Without telling us the least about His humiliation, the man child was caught up to God and to His throne. Thus it is clear that it is not a bare statement of the Lord's life, but such facts are referred to — the two great cardinal ones of His birth and of His rapture to the presence and throne of God — in order to furnish connecting links with what God has to do by and by with Israel. All the intermediate workings of God in the church are left entirely out, except as we may suppose the church to be involved in the destiny of the man child, who is now hid with God, but is yet to reign. Just as what is said about Christ in the Old Testament is applied to the church or the Christian in the New Testament; but still, most true and blessed as that is, it is an indirect use. Here then we have the Messiah in relation to the future purpose of God as regards Israel.
Then follows the vision of a war in heaven. Not the Lord Jesus Christ, but angelic power is seen used of God to put down the rebel angels, Satan and his host. And from that moment Satan loses his power above (that is to say, the most important part of it, the most serious in itself, the most dishonouring to God, the most dangerous to the people of God) — his power in heavenly places, which is referred to in Ephesians 6 and other passages. Accordingly, when Satan loses that place, there is joy in heaven, and a voice proclaims that "Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ." But yet, as far as the earth was concerned, the kingdom was not actually come: only Satan had lost his place above.
So we find a little answering to this, that our Lord alludes to Satan's fall from heaven in the gospel of Luke; and I notice it because some have thence supposed that Satan had been expelled from the heavens long ago. It is in Rev. 10, when the disciples return to the Lord, full of joy because the devils even were subject to them. The answer is that He "beheld Satan, as lightning, fall from heaven." Now a person might set the words in the evangelist against the fall of Satan that is described in the Apocalypse as still future. But evidently this would be a misuse of scripture. We may always rest assured that the Bible agrees with itself. It is ignorance and unbelief to set one part of God's word against another. To an unbiassed mind, I think it is certain that the fall of Satan in the prophecy is described as a prospective event, which is to take place three years and a half (however that may be taken) before the destruction of the beast and the binding of Satan himself. Consequently it is a fall that in St. John's time at least was yet future. The immediate effect was to be a dreadful persecution against the woman and her seed. Again, I have endeavoured to set forth a variety of considerations, from which it is clear to me that before this event the church must have been taken to heaven. Such the reader will remember has been the uniform deduction I have drawn all through our former chapters (Rev. 4-6); so that the fall of Satan, intimated here, must be an event subsequent to the removal of the glorified saints to heaven. What then does the Lord Jesus Christ mean when He says, "I beheld Satan, as lightning, fall from heaven?" When He sees and hears the effects of the disciples' service in His name, then the vision of Satan's catastrophe passes before His eyes, and the full consequences of His power are hailed in the then earnest of it. He looks on to the final crisis and the downfall of the Evil One, when the disciples announced so notable a sample of "the powers of the world to come." It was the first great blow struck by men at Satan's power; and therefore He anticipates the end from the beginning, and, so to speak, in a sort of musing, contemplative vision, He beheld the adversary fall from the highest scene of his usurpation.
Nor is this an uncommon thing in scripture. In another gospel, when the Greeks come up to the feast desiring to see Jesus, what does He say? "The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified." He was going to the cross and to death; yet He declares that the hour was come that He should be glorified. How was this? If you take it in a mere literal way, it seems to me that the force of the passage is lost. Jesus sees in the Greeks that were before Him a sample of the ingathering of the Gentiles; and the Lord perfectly well knew that the only thing that would draw the Gentiles must be His own cross and His glory in heaven. So that He looks through all the intervening scene that was before Him, for He had to accomplish redemption and to ascend on high. But from this little sample He connects all with His glorification, and speaks of it as of a present fact.
Again when Judas goes out, and the Lord Jesus Christ repeats similar words, it is, I presume, on the same principle. (John 13:31)
Is not Rev. 5:13 analogous? A remarkable movement was seen in the vision affecting the universe, when the sealed book was taken in hand by the Lamb. It is not merely that we had the living creatures prostrate, and the elders taking up the new song, and the myriads of angels with their loud voice of praise; but there is a chorus in which the whole creation joined. "And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever." It was like striking a key-note that would never cease to vibrate, till the remotest bounds of creation would be filled with the glory of God and the Lamb. But the time of full blessing was here anticipated; it was in fact the Lamb's receiving the book of the inheritance which called forth these overflowings of worship and joy. After this followed the opening of the seals, which was but the prelude of the latter-day judgments; and these would go on increasing in severity till Christ Himself comes executing wrath. (Rev. 19.) Not till then would the glory appear, and these anticipations be realised. (Rev. 21, 22.) From the first event, however, that was a link in the chain, the end is welcomed. This is the mind of Christ.
And so it is in Luke 10. The Lord does not there refer to Satan's fall as a fact actually accomplished then; but He looks on through what was true at that time to his future and more complete humiliation, which we see here. And even this fall of Satan is by no means the last exertion of the power of God against the enemy. For until then Satan had scarcely been touched, save to faith. It is true that in the cross of Christ he had been judged in principle (John 12:31); but, as a literal fact, he was not yet shaken from his throne of the world. Doubtless, in the cross, the great work of God in virtue of which he is to be cast out from heaven was accomplished, so that it only remains a question of time and of the will of God. And first of all, he loses the heavenly part of the power which he has usurped. Then he comes down to the earth in a rage, knowing that he has but a short time. This brings us to Revelation 13; for there we get the detail of the doings of Satan here below, i.e., upon the sea and the earth (the sea, as we have before seen, symbolizing what was not under regular government, and the earth that part of the world which enjoys a state of order). The two together make up the world as a whole, or a given sphere of it, under whatever condition.
The prophet,* it in said, was set or stood upon the sand of the sea. In a later portion (Rev. 17) he is carried in the Spirit into the wilderness; and afterwards (Rev. 21) to a great and high mountain. Here, as everywhere, all is in keeping with the scene. "I stood upon the sand of the sea." The reason is manifest. John is about to see a great beast emerging out of the sea, and accordingly he takes in the vision a suited place. "And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea." You must remember that all these visions were like a great panorama that passed before the eye of the prophet. What the meaning of the symbols used is, we have to find out by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The sea sets forth the unformed mass of the people under a troubled state of the world — people in great agitation, like the restless waves of the deep. It is that which represents a revolutionary condition among men. And it is out of that mass of anarchy and confusion that an imperial power rises. This power is called "the beast." The same thing appears in Dan. 7; but with this difference. The Jewish prophet sees successively four beasts emerge from the sea; not one merely, as we have in the beginning of Rev. 13. There was the first beast like a lion, the second like a bear, the third like a leopard, and a fourth beast of a peculiar kind. And then, before the explanation is given, one in the form of a son of man comes with the clouds of heaven, in contrast with the powers that came up from a tumultuous sea. It was a kingdom heavenly in its source, and a king who was to use the power of God which is to be established over the earth in the person of the Lord as Son of man, instead of being left in God's sovereignty to those successive and ferocious beasts. The rising of the beasts out of the sea, upon which the four winds of heaven strove, portrays probably the vast commotion of peoples that preceded the formation of the four great empires. And it is an interesting fact, that the foundations of those states which afterwards became possessed of the imperial power were all laid about the same time. They emerged from obscurity and political chaos pretty nearly together. God in His sovereignty gave power to each in succession. First, there was the Babylonian, then the Medo-Persian, then the Greek or Macedonian, and lastly the Roman.
*The reader should know that this is one of the most contested readings in the book. The difference in Greek is but a letter more or less; but in the one case John is meant, in the other the dragon. The Alexandrian, Paris, anti Porphyrian uncials, with the Middlehill and Montfort MSS., are confirmed by most of the ancient versions and two old Latin commentators in the latter sense; and all other known MSS., including the Sinai and Vatican uncials, with the Coptic, etc., and the Greek commentators, give the former. Modern editors and commentators are not less divided. The comparison of our text with Rev. 10:5-10 will perhaps suffice to show that there is no internal incongruity in assigning such a position to John. Dan. 10:4-5, Dan. 12:5, ought to be borne in mind. On the other hand, if it be "he stood," I do not see that it attributes providential power to Satan, which would be very objectionable.
In this case John sees but one beast rise. The sea sets forth a troubled state of nations, and the fourth and last beast mentioned by Daniel is seen by the prophet coming out of it. The first three beasts had had their day, and they were gone. The fourth or Roman empire had followed, and was then in being and power. It was the authority of the Roman beast, which had at this very time cast John into Patmos. It seems to be its final rise, previous to its destruction which John sees here, but what was to take place between its first appearance as an empire and this reappearance is not yet described. There can be no doubt, from the description given, that it is the Roman empire. It is said to have "seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns;" the same things that we saw in Satan (Rev. 12:3), where he was regarded as the possessor of the power of the world, and specially that of Rome. We all may remember how he said to the Lord Jesus, when showing Him all the kingdoms of the world, "All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them; for this is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it." Now here he gives it to the Roman beast. Satan was, of course, an usurper; but still he was the prince of the world in fact, and as such he has seven heads and ten horns. But as Satan, he does not present himself openly before men. He must have some representative or agent. He must disguise himself, and work through another, and take a human form and instrumentality; even as God was pleased to do the same to accomplish His blessed purposes of grace. And so does Satan — awful counterpart in malice of God's goodness in Christ! The agent described, through whom he works, is the Roman empire in its last phase. He took advantage of men's lust for power, because that which is the object of ambition in the world is power. And here you have a vast imperial power, which was at first owned of God. As far as rising out of the sea was concerned, God could still have owned it; but when it is said to arise out of the bottomless pit, the source is in no way providential, but expressly of the enemy.
But besides these seven heads and ten horns, there were upon the latter ten crowns. Let me just say that I have no doubt the ten horns ought to be mentioned before the heads: "having ten horns and seven heads, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads names of blasphemy" (verse 1). Not that one would attach undue importance to the order, save that we ought always to be right; but the two clauses of the verse agree in putting the horns first, perhaps because the beast is regarded here as having these powers in actual exercise, whereas Satan had them virtually only. Blasphemy, not mere heathenism, characterizes his heads.
"And the beast which I saw was like a leopard." This was the general resemblance of its body, and it refers to the Macedonian empire, so notoriously marked by its swiftness of conquest. "His feet were as the feet of a bear," which refers to the Persian, and implies great tenacity of grasp; "and his mouth as the mouth of a lion" denoting its voraciousness, as in Nebuchadnezzar's career and kingdom. Thus the Roman empire, in its last stage at least, would unite in itself the several characteristics of the former empires. And indeed such was the ordinary policy of the Romans. They did not interfere with what they found in the various nations they conquered. They endeavoured to incorporate into their own system whatever had helped on the power of those nations. They did not force their own customs upon others, but cultivated whatever they found advantageous, and turned it to their own use. So this beast, as we see here, was made up of the diverse qualities of power that had given weight to its imperial predecessors.
But there is one remarkable difference from all of them, and even from its own original condition. "The dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority" (verse 2). This notable distinction is subsequent to Satan's fall from heaven. He wants to have a medium for acting universally upon men, in the centre of the world's civilisation and activity, for the short time that he is allowed to do as he pleases on earth. Accordingly, to the Roman beast which had imperial authority providentially from God he gives his own peculiar dragon power. This is a thing that has never yet been seen on the earth in the full sense of the word — this union of the imperial authority with the positive impartation of Satanic energy. But the prophet sees more than this connected with the beast's investiture by the dragon. "And [I saw] one of his heads as it were slain to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and the whole earth wondered after the beast" (verse 3). I am inclined to think that the wounded head was the imperial form of government. (Comp. Rev. 17:10.) The heads that were, as we have seen, connected with the dragon (Rev. 12:3) as well as with the beast, represent the different forms of power which had existed successively. Of these one was to be lost, as it were wounded to death, but at this time was to be revived again through Satanic agency. All the world is surprised, and no wonder. They will be seized with extreme astonishment at the revival of the Roman empire, with more than its ancient splendour.
And now, if we look at Daniel, we find a remarkable fact introduced there, connected with its divided state at the close, and of course also with its previous divisions after it had ceased to exist as an empire. The image in Dan. 2 has got feet, "part of iron and part of clay." There is weakness consequently. That metal represents the original Roman element in its strength, while the clay was a foreign ingredient, which brought in weakness when it sought to coalesce with the iron.* "And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men; but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay" (verse 43). This exactly accounts for the state of things found in Western Europe. The history of this part of the world was completely changed by the inroads of the barbarians about the fifth century after Christ. There was a time when one vast consolidated power had universal and undisputed sway — the iron power of Rome. But at the epoch named swarms of barbarians, near about the same time and from the north and east, came down on the empire and assailed it at almost every point. It fell. But mighty as these barbarians were in overthrowing, they could only establish little separate kingdoms; and since then no hand has been able to gather up the broken fragments and put them firmly together again. It has not been for want of the disposition to do so; for, on the contrary, all sorts of expedients have been tried — sometimes the sword, sometimes policy, sometimes intermarriage — but in vain. And thus it has remained under the providence of God. There has been no unity, so that the prevailing and favourite expression of modem policy has been and is "the balance of power." It means really keeping a respectable distance among the scattered members of what was once a united body. Mutual jealousies and the spirit of independence in each have ever effectually hindered re-union. The ordinary aim has been, by the formation of parties among the powers, to cheek and prevent the preponderance of any one.
*Dr. M'Causland (Latter Days of Jerusalem and Rome, pp. 336, 353) interprets the miry clay of the spiritual power exercised by the Papacy, and the iron of the temporal power of Rome; but this is, for obvious and conclusive reasons to my mind, wholly untenable.
But though that wound seemed to be unto death, it was healed notwithstanding. "I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed." That is, at the period of which the vision speaks, the Roman power is to be consolidated afresh: not as formerly, with God's good hand over it and controlling all, whatever might have been the ways of individual emperors; but all is abandoned to the will of the beast as the immediate instrument of Satan. Satan can no longer accuse the saints before God, but now he is at work on the earth to produce open blasphemy against God. And this is first done by means of political influence. There is the Roman empire reorganised, and the imperial power revived, and a head over it that gathers everything under his own control, so that all the world wonders after the beast to whom the dragon had given his power, and throne, and great authority. In the next verse we have not merely this; but "they worshipped the beast saying, Who is like the beast? and who is able to make war with him?" (verse 4.)
What a fickle thing is man! No doubt, just before there had been a state of anarchy and confusion, and thence the beast arose and becomes an object of wonder and worship to men weary of all their previous turmoil, and strife, and insecurity. Something like it was seen in a neighbouring country. Men were convulsed by a revolution which tore up all the landmarks and filled their minds with anxiety and restlessness. And what came out of that? A strong hand takes the reins, a military despotism, a quasi-imperial power. And what was enacted on a small scale, because in one country only, will prevail in all the western powers of Europe. So that instead of men having things to themselves, some vigorous chief will take the rule; but it will not be the hand of man merely, but the dragon's power. God will permit him to have his own way; and so for a short time he is allowed to do his very worst. Then, besides distinct governments and rulers, each over his own country, there will be an imperial unity under one great head, who will wield their power and preside over all. Thus will be accomplished those desires of men that have hitherto proved but idle dreams, or at most abortive efforts.
There is a passage in an early epistle I would briefly notice, which refers to what has hindered, and hinders still, the development of this and other allied wickedness. It is in 2 Thess. 2:6-7: "And now ye know what withholdeth, that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one who now letteth until he be taken out of the way. And then shall the lawless one be revealed," etc. There is a restraint that God puts upon the lawlessness of the world; and I conceive the Holy Ghost who acts here below is the One spoken of here as "he who now letteth" or hindereth. Still, after the church has been taken away, God will carry on a testimony, though of another sort, and Satan will be kept in check for a season at least. This restraint will be maintained by the operation of the Holy Ghost in a providential way. When this dealing of God ceases, the Holy Ghost will no longer "let," as the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth; that is, the power which the Holy Ghost exerts over the world, and not merely in the church, will no longer be put forth as now to keep Satan under. "He who now letteth" will "be taken out of the way." People do not know how much they owe to this restraint of Satan from doing his worst. But the time will come when God will cease to hinder; and then Satan will for a season carry all before him on the earth. He raises up a person as head, and men are charmed with the grandeur of his energy, exercised as it will be without conscience towards God — charmed with the comparative ease that will result from having one person supreme over all. In short, they will have in many ways what is suited to meet the idolatry and pride of the heart. For men are, like children, constantly disappointed with their own schemes and even successes. Besides, having refused the love of the truth, they will readily fall into whatever snare Satan may put before them. So that, after a previous storm of revolutions, they will gladly fall down and worship the beast and the dragon that gave him his power. But further, the worship of the beast in the day that is coming will be of a different character from common idolatry. They will not merely be adorers of him, along with gods many and lords many, as the heathen of old. There will be an utter denial of any god above the one who is adored as such on earth. This miserable being whom Satan fills will be the object of their worship; and the dragon shares it.
"And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemy: and power was given unto him to practise [or continue] * forty-two months" (verse 5). Nobody doubts, I suppose, that this is connected with Dan. 7. The same kind of language is heard applying to and for the same time. If we examine that chapter, some of the thoughts I have uttered will be found to be confirmed. It is said (Dan. 7:7) that the fourth beast differs from all its predecessors. "It had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up another little horn" (verse 8). There is nothing of this in the Revelation. The little horn, at least as such, is not mentioned there. But this is not all. Before him "were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots." He takes possession of the territory of three of the horns, so that but seven remain out of the ten. "In this horn were eyes like the eyes of man," — the symbol of intelligence, "and a mouth speaking great things," — the utterance of pride and blasphemy against God. (Compare verse 25.) This is what brings on judgment from God — not of course the white-throne judgment of the dead, but the judgment of the quick, and of the habitable world. And so it is written in the eleventh verse: "I beheld, then, because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake; I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed and given to the burning flame." Now observe that there is this difference between Daniel's prophecy and John's — what Daniel says about the little horn John says about the beast. (Compare Rev. 13:5-6, with Dan. 7:8, 25.) The reason is this: John gives us the character or principle, and Daniel the detail of historical facts. The fact was to be, that in the Roman empire there should arise ten kings, three† of whom disappear before the force or fraud of another king, the little horn — a power obscure in its first origin, but acquiring actual possession of three kingdoms, and then becoming the real director of all the rest. In the Revelation (where of course it is assumed that what had been disclosed in Daniel is already known), the Holy Ghost does not go back to the historical details, but speaks as if the emperor and the empire were one.
*Grammatically speaking the authorised version is good here. Compare Acts 15:33; Acts 18:23; Acts 20:3. The Hebraistic absolute sense is according to the analogy of Dan. 8:12, 24, and Dan 11 passim. Bengel, Griesbach, and others, doubted as to the word in any sense, and considered it probably an interpolation from verse 7. I believe, on the contrary, that the peculiarity of the expression, to those that did not bear in mind the phraseology of Daniel, led some of the scribes to insert πόλεμον before or after ποιῆσαι, as B, most MSS. (14 πολεμῆσαι), and led other authorities, as the Armenian version, Irenaeus, etc., to omit ποιῆσαι. Dionysius Alex. (ap. Euseb.) has καὶ μῆνες. On the whole I conceive that Erasmus and R. Stephens rightly read ποιῆσαι, and that the Complutensian editors and the Elzivers wrongly admitted πόλεμον. The true sense appears to be to practise, work, act, or do, rather than merely "continue." The ancient versions are singularly vague, but to my mind they indicate action more or less energetic or specific, and not bare continuance; and so, it seems to me, the great majority of the best modern translators. Dr. M'Causland (pp. 300, 361) prefers "to make forty-two months," i.e., to drive out the Jew into the wilderness for that period. This may be a "literal" version; but I cannot commend its "propriety." Is it not plain that the acting of the beast is in contradistinction to his speaking? He blasphemes God in every possible way, His name, His tabernacle, and those that dwell in heaven; and more than this, license is given him to carry all out practically for forty-two months.
†Even Mr. E. gives up the popular notion, sanctioned by Sir Isaac Newton, Bishop Newton, etc., that this was fulfilled in the subjection of Rome, part of Lombardy, and Ravenna, to the Pope. But is his own theory much better? How can the destruction of the Vandals in Corsica and Sardinia, or of the Ostrogoths in Italy by Justinian's general Belisarius, and of the Lombards long after by Pepin and Charlemagne, answer to the little horn's subduing three kings? Even of this petty territory, which is so strangely exaggerated into three kingdoms, the Pope has long possessed but a portion: if all the parts remained, they would scarce make one real kingdom. The little horn, on the contrary, conquers for himself, and becomes pre-eminently great.
We are bound to acknowledge "the powers that be;" but when Satan has given the beast his authority, it is another thing altogether: we owe no allegiance to Satan. In point of fact, he is the one who leads on the beast into all his own depths and heights of sin. For the beast "opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name and his tabernacle, [and]* them that dwell in heaven" (verse 6). The Roman empire is the chariot, so to speak, in which this furious rider is driving.
*It is not correct to say, with the author of the Horae Apocalypticae, that the conjunction is wanting in all the critical editions, for Griesbach, Knapp, Scholz, Tischendorf, etc., retain it with the Vatican, Porphyrian, and uncials, a good many MSS., and almost all the ancient versions, save the Syriac. Still there is grave authority ( ℵ A C, twenty-eight cursives, etc.) against kaiv, which is therefore dropped by some excellent editors, as Matthaei, Lachmann, etc. I have, accordingly, thought it right to bracket the word, though my opinion is in favour of receiving it.
But let us look further at Daniel 7. "I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them (verse 21). … And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the high [places], and shall think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hands until a time, and times, and the dividing of times." It is the same period of forty-two months that we have here in Rev. 13: — "a time," which means "year;" and "times," two years; "and the dividing of time," half a year. I have no question that it is the person referred to in Daniel, under the name of the little horn, who here appears under that of the beast. There he is the "horn," because Daniel gives us the gradual succession of the history, and adds the special Jewish part, the gift of times and laws into his hand; here, because he is viewed as having all the power and authority of the imperial system, he is called "the beast." He opens his mouth "in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, and them that tabernacle in heaven." For this was the great object of Satan, who uses the beast as his mouthpiece. It was from heaven he had been cast out; and God in heaven, and those whom He calls into relationship with Himself there are peculiarly odious to Satan and to this self-exalting beast. "They that dwell in heaven" are unbearable to them. There is no one thing that stirs the world even now so much as this. It does not always dislike godliness when connected with things on the earth: it can appreciate love in a measure, for men can selfishly profit by it. But the moment there is a godliness which cares not for the things of the earth — not merely in the refusal of evil things, for they could understand this — but in deliberate separation even when men are doing their best, (i.e., seeking to be religious and to honour God in their own way,) nothing so excites men's hatred now; much more so when that day comes. For then Satan will have lost all power and place in heaven, and have only the earth to work in, and the thought of blessedness above is hateful to him. He endeavours to make men think that the beast is God, and takes advantage, I suppose, of the prophecies in scripture to make them believe that the predicted good time is arrived, that God is come back to the world, that men have nothing to do but to enjoy all the blessings of the earth and of the day spoken of when God was to scatter His enemies. Satan seeks that men should antedate this under himself and without God. He will know what is at hand and his own torment when that day arrives. He will endeavour to turn to account the very promises of God, for cheating the world into the belief that these times of chiefest evil are the days of heaven on the earth. This is the time described here, when conscience towards God will be completely null and void, and what was true of Pharaoh on a small scale will be verified in entire Christendom. It will be given up to judicial hardening and then destroyed. It is just what the Spirit shows us in 2 Thess. 2:11-12, when God, grieved with this world because of their rejection of the truth, will allow man and Satan to do their worst together. "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." And I most fully believe not only that God will do so righteously, but that the righteousness of it will be apprehended by any soul who is subject to His word.
Here, then, we have the means by which Satan accomplished his purposes. He has given his vast power to the beast, and now he makes him an object of worship. "And it was given unto him to make war with the saints and to overcome them: and authority was given him over every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him of whom the name is not written in the book of life of the slain Lamb, from the foundation of the world" (verses 7, 8). Here is the same distinction that I have alluded to before. "All that dwell on the earth" are a worse class than the tribes, peoples, tongues, and nations, meaning those that have abandoned heaven and heavenly hopes, and are fully committed to the latter-day delusions. In the case of "every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation," authority was given to the beast over them; but as to "those that dwell on the earth," they are completely subject to him and to his malignant influence. "All that dwell upon the earth shall worship him." That is not said about the others, but these are completely given up. When it says, "whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," the idea is not that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world, though people commonly draw from it the inference, as in 1 Peter 1:19-20, of the purpose of God. But the true meaning of the verse, I apprehend, is that their names were not written from the foundation of the world in the book of the slain Lamb. And, comparing this with Rev. 17:8, we find that the Spirit has left out a portion, which makes all clear by removing any doubt of the true connection. "And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world." The Holy Spirit has left out "of the Lamb that was slain," and puts together the writing in the book of life, with "from the foundation of the world." The language of Peter, etc., (1 Peter 1:20,) where he speaks of the Lord Jesus as an unblemished, spotless lamb, "who verily was ordained before the foundation of the world," has quite another bearing.
Then comes a solemn word of warning, on which I need not dwell at length. "If any man hath an ear, let him hear." If any man leadeth into captivity, into captivity he goeth: if any man killeth with the sword, he must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints" (verses 9, 10). That is a general maxim, true of any one; true even for the beast. If he has been leading others into captivity, he is to go into that or worse himself: if he has killed with the sword, he must also be killed. But it is specially intended for the guidance of the saints, who might naturally infer, from the wickedness of the beast, and his league with the dragon, that they were at liberty to resist him. And there is, I believe, the reason why this is said, lest the saint should be tempted to forget his place or God's supremacy and sure judgment. Their place was not to take the sword in their own defence. If they did so, what would be the result? Even then, whatever their character, whatever the beast's, God would hold to His principles. They must expect what they sought to inflict. It is the law of God's retributive government. The apostle Paul, in Eph. 6, does not scruple to use the voice of the law as to the honour due to a parent. "Honour thy father and mother … that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth." Of course he does not mean that a Christian should look forward to living on the earth as a reward for honouring parents. It was a principle laid down of old by God, and the apostle, referring to the earthly promise, merely shows that even under the law there was a special blessing attached to it. It was the first commandment with promise. So here the Spirit of God gives a general principle, true at all times, applicable alike to foes and friends. "If any man," etc. — it does not matter who. It is a false position for the Christian to assume the place of power in the world. What makes it the more striking is that the saints spoken of here are Jewish, who of all others might think it very right to resist with all their might. If the beast blasphemed and persecuted grievously, they might say, "Surely we are entitled to stand up in defence of our religion and our lives." But says the Lord, "If any man have an ear, let him hear … he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword." If He lets him have his way for a season, what is our calling? "Here is the patience and the faith of the saints" — faith as regards God, and patience as regards the enemy. Thus God will so much the more appear on behalf of His sufferers. And if the place of faith and patience belongs to those Jewish saints who have a comparatively earthly position, how much more to us who have nothing but a heavenly one? (Comp. Matt. 26:52.)
Our great business, next to enjoying Christ and delighting in His love, should be to cultivate what is according to His will: so that we should not give a false witness of what He is and has done for us. We are not of the world; and the moment we fall back upon the resources of nature, upon our own personal power, influence, or authority, we have deserted Christian ground. In family relationships, to act according to our place of authority is a perfectly right thing. Nor will the blessing of God be with those who do not maintain the relative place that God has set them in: as of a father or child, a husband or wife, etc. The affections, most important as they are, are not everything. God is to be respected in the order that He establishes and sanctions. These are things which are not touched by our heavenly place; on the contrary, this gives us an opportunity of showing we have got in Christ a fresh power for every legitimate relation. But to take our part as having an interest in this world is quite another thing, and not the place of the Christian; but rather to pass lightly over it, as those that know their portion with God in heaven. Christ is coming to judge the world, which God regards as guilty of the blood of His Son, and only ripening for judgment. This truth habitually before our souls would preserve us from much that dishonours the Lord in us as Christians.
May all we learn be used to our blessing in separating us from what is to end so dismally! The outward effects of conduct are not enough. The church is regarded as having the mind of Christ, and we are responsible to God to keep out of the secret snares and springs by which Satan is bringing about this evil. For we have to do with his working in a still more subtle way than his acts in the world. May we not forget what God is to us for the present claims of His glory! We have the most blessed opportunity of being faithful to Christ now. It is vain to look wistfully at others, and to imagine what we could do if in their circumstances. God is equal to all the difficulty of our own position and time, and would give us the needed strength if we waited on Him. The only reason why we are apt to magnify the strangeness, etc., of circumstances, is because our eye is not single to Christ. When we see Him in everything, the danger, difficulty, and temptation are all at an end.
Verses 11-18. The rise of the second beast is strongly distinguished from that of the one already noticed. First, there was the beast out of the sea; now we read, "And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth." The earth we have seen, all through the Revelation, to be the symbol of that which politically is established and in order — the proper scene of the testimony and ways of God and of settled human government. Its privileges may be abused; it may lapse into a state of frightful moral darkness; for it is just where there is any blessing from above that there is the danger of corruption and apostacy. The sea on the contrary is a loose, disorganised aspect of the world. Chronologically, too, this might intimate that the rise of the second beast is subsequent to that of the first. When the seven-headed monster rises, all is in a state of agitation; but when and where the second beast comes up, things are consolidated after a fashion. The land now is spoken of — no longer the water, the sport of every wind. But the personage described as "coming up out of the earth" is not a mere individual. It is a political, oppressing power that acts without conscience toward God — a beast.* It may be, and I doubt not this is, one particular individual that exercises the power, as with the first beast. But "beast," as a symbol, does not mean an individual as such, but an imperial power, sometimes with revolting satellites subject to itself.
*Mr. Elliott considers the two-horned lamb-like beast to represent the papal clergy, secular and regular, united under the Pope, as the western patriarch, and supporting him in his loftier character of Christ's vicar or antichrist. Matt. 7:15, he thinks, almost precludes the possibility of error in thus interpreting the symbol of the anti-christian clerical body. But does not a "beast," in prophetic imagery, always imply a political corporation or civil power, never (certainly elsewhere) a priestly class however organised? Ought such an element to be left out in interpreting the chapter?
Next, this beast was evidently of an extraordinary kind; for it is characterized by an imitation of Christ. It has "two horns like a lamb." The Lord, we must have observed, through the Revelation, is often spoken of as the "Iamb." While seated upon the throne of God, while described as Himself the great Sufferer, actively sympathizing with the suffering people of God, He is seen as a "Lamb." But when the saints slip out of and abandon their proper lot of earthly rejection, the Lord ceases to be thus symbolized. He seems ashamed of them and retreats to a distance, and is seen as an angel and not any longer as a Lamb. The extraordinary thing that we see here is that this beast assumes to be like Christ. He has two horns like a lamb. He makes a sort of pretension to be like Christ in official power. While the horn is used as a symbol of a king, it may also mean simply power. It was so used when speaking of David, "the horn of his anointed," etc.; but still more is this meaning of it apparent if we look at the Lord Jesus, who is seen in this book as having seven horns and seven eyes. Clearly the seven horns there cannot be seven kings; so that the horns, according to the context, either might mean kings, or they might be simply power. In the former beast we are told they signify kings; but per se they need not, and here they seem not to mean more than power. It is not the perfection of power as seen in the Lamb, but only pretension to it; there were two horns. The Spirit of God has been pleased to show us in chapter 17 of this book, that the ten horns of the first beast are ten kings. (Rev. 17:12)
So far, then, all is plain about this second beast. It is a corporate power that grows up when all was formed and orderly, and consequently arising after the appearance of the first beast. More than that. He arrogates to himself the power of Christ (he has two horns like a lamb); but his speech betrays him — he speaks as a dragon. Out of the abundance of the heart, we know, the mouth speaks. Whatever he may appear to be outwardly, when he does give utterance to the real sentiments of his heart, it is the voice of the dragon. Of this the draconic voice is the expression. It is the great active power of evil in the latter day; and this is one difference between these beasts. The first beast is the one for show: it catches the profane world through the display of power and glory. The second beast is much the more energetic of the two. It is the one that most takes the place of Christ — is a false Christ, or rather is antichrist — i.e., the very expression of Satan in his direct opposition to Christ. When Satan was seen (Rev. 12) waiting to devour the man child as soon as it was born, he is not as the serpent, but as the dragon. And here, in order to the ripening of his last designs, this beast speaks as a dragon.
But it may be interesting to look at some of the scriptures that apply to the second beast, for there is often a good deal of confusion about them; and it is not to be wondered at, for these two beasts are so closely bound together in the last days, that it is a difficult matter to determine which of them is the antichrist. The word "Antichrist" is only found in the Epistles of John. And there we must look if we would see what is implied in that name. In 1 John 2 the Holy Ghost writes as to this to the babes of God's family. For it is not at all a true principle that the young in Christ are only to know Him for the salvation of their own souls. The reason, I suppose, for thus writing to them was, because they were in special danger from the snares and deceits of the enemy; and the Lord, while He preserves, does not want us to be kept blindfold. Christian guidance is not unintelligent. It is not the blind leading the blind, nor even the seeing leading the blind; but it is the seeing leading the seeing. God does give help and instruction; but the Holy Ghost takes particular pains to show that He appeals not to the saints' ignorance, but to their knowledge of the truth. "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that the antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." There we learn with certainty what was working from and in the time of the Apostle John, what has been increasing ever since, and bearing a terrible harvest up to the present time, though the fruit of it, the antichrist, may not yet be fully ripe. "Even now are there many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time." That was the proof — not good, as men think, but the deep evil of antichrist spreading. "They went out from us, but they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." What a solemn thing!
The persons displaying the spirit of antichrist were individuals that had once professed the name of Christ. In fact, there could not be an antichrist unless there had been some previous profession of Christ. There must necessarily be some truth; for Satan cannot invent. He can imitate; he can corrupt God's truth, and use it for his own purposes, and put it in new and evil forms, so as to give the appearance of truth to what is positive error: "for no lie is of the truth." Thus the great antichrist is to come: but even then were there many antichrists. These persons, painful to say, had once been in the family of God. There they had been, outwardly in the place of children, but not of course in reality. Then "they went out form us, but they were not of us." Next he says, "Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?" But he goes farther. To deny that Jesus is the Christ is the first feature. But there are greater abominations. "He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son." There are two states spoken of here. First, there is the denial that Jesus is the Messiah, the last degree of that infidelity which every unbelieving Jew shows who rejects Christ from that day to this. But the terrible thing is, that it is found in those who had once taken their place in confessing Jesus to be the Christ. Of him who will finally be the leader in giving it up and renouncing, it is said, "he is a liar." But more than that. He is not only a liar, but an antichrist "that denieth the Father and the Son." Jesus was the Messiah, and much more: the Father was displayed in Him. If I look at the Messiah as such, I do not necessarily and fully see the Father there. In Him is the truth of the kingdom of God; in Him the display of His power and faithfulness to His people. But there is something far more blessed than the kingdom; for when I have the thought of the Father, I rise not merely into the region of divine power, but into that of the highest, holiest, most intimate affections. It is evident that what we know in the presence of God now is an infinitely nearer thing than the glory that He will give or display by and by. This will tell others what His feelings are toward us, proving the love we are brought into now. We do not wait for the kingdom to know this; but by the Holy Ghost we draw near to God now, in the most blessed way in which He here reveals Himself. Of course when in heaven we shall have a more unalloyed knowledge of His love, an enjoyment never interrupted by the workings of a carnal mind or by worldly influences. Every hindrance will be removed — all idols will vanish; for every present thing which becomes an object to the mind, instead of Christ, is really an idol. We shall be out of and above all this when we are taken to be with the Lord. But the love of the Father is just as true and perfect now, and we by the Holy Ghost are privileged to enjoy it. We shall enter more fully into the love then, but the love itself is the same even now. It is the rejection, then, not merely of the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus, but of His divine glory as the Son, that brings in antichrist. All the love of the Father has come out in Christ, witnessed by the Holy Ghost. That involves, not merely the Jewish revelation, but the Christian; and it supposes too that Messiah has not only come and been rejected, but has brought out all His divine and heavenly glory. For His being the Son of the Father has nothing to do with the earth. His eternal Sonship is evidently a truth transcending entirely His Messianic rights and position. It would have been equally true if there had been no earth or providential dealings. It was His eternal relation and glory; and therefore, when the Holy Ghost wants to bring us into our full place of blessedness, it is the Father that He brings out. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings." Where? Here? Not at all. "In heavenly places in Christ, according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." So that the seat of our blessing is entirely outside and above the whole scene of the lower creation. And if a man utterly rejects and despises that, renouncing His glory whom he had once owned, what is he? An antichrist. What he does on a small scale, the antichrist will do on a larger one.
I refer to the Epistles of John, because there we have the antichrist mentioned, not as a beast as in the Revelation, but as the end and chief of those who had once been in the family of God outwardly, had gone out from it, abandoning and denying the blessed truth about the Father and the Son, which they seemed to have received. "He is antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son." On the other hand, we read, "Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father." God always makes the utmost account of His Son. If you deny the Son, everything is gone; whereas "he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also." When I possess the Son of God and my heart finds satisfaction in Him, I know the Father. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father also."
Then, after exhorting them to let that abide in them which they had heard from the beginning, that so they might continue in the Son and in the Father, John closes the matter thus: "These things have I written unto you concerning them which seduce you." It was an evil that was at work from the very beginning. And what mercy is there even in this! As the evil did exist, and must be manifested at some time or another, God allowed it to break out then, so as to put His own revealed sentence upon it. We should never have dared to have said such strong things of those whom we had even known as friends or as brethren so-called. Call them liars! How shocking and uncharitable! men would say. But the moment that any men set themselves against (or rather deny) the full revelation of the Son of God, the Holy Ghost knows no quarter; and I believe that we ought not. If the heart is unprepared for this, you will find another thing that goes along with it. Wherever unbroken self-love, sensitiveness, and tenacity reign about what touches ourselves, there is but little care for the Lord Jesus. You cannot have two master affections. When the heart is single to Christ, He lifts us above personal feelings; but where the heart's care is for ourselves, there will not be found much devotedness to Him, nor jealousy for His name.
In 1 John 4 the apostle refers to the spirit of the evil. "Every spirit that confesseth not Jesus Christ come in the flesh is not of God: and this is the [spirit] of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world." Why does the Holy Ghost introduce it here? There are many false prophets, as had been said in the first verse, gone out into the world: and so I believe there are now. But it is a most difficult thing to realize it at the time in which we live. We can see it in times that are past; but the great difficulty is the discerning of what is at work now. We are in the very same circumstances that the saints were in then. For as surely as the Holy Ghost continues to work, so surely will the subtle power of Satan be there to oppose. "Every spirit that confesseth not," etc. Such is the power or principle of antichrist "whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world." It is not the antichrist fully developed yet, but the spirit of it working among men, just as much as the Holy Ghost was working also. The earliest sphere is not in the profane world; it must begin with those who had once borne the name of Christ. Satan could not forge such a rebellion against God, but among those who profess to believe the truth.
Again, there is a notice of this in the second Epistle of John, where it is said that "many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not Jesus Christ come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist." It is no longer a question of justification by faith simply, or of the law, but a more serious thing still. It is Satan, not only attacking the work of Christ and seeking to get persons to add something, and so to take away from its glory, but deprecating and denying the person of the Son. Important as the work of Christ is to us, the person of Christ is the centre and substance of all truth and glory. In presence of such a theme, I desire not to discuss but to worship. The reason why persons care more for the work of Christ is because they rightly feel they cannot be saved without it; but once we have got peace of conscience, Christ's person becomes the most precious object of our hearts. He is God's delight; and what is most precious to Him, we shall find to be the most blessed, and full of blessing for us. It is not merely he that denies Jesus Christ come in the flesh, but he that does not confess Jesus Christ coming in the flesh: this is a deceiver and an antichrist. The Holy Ghost becomes, if we may so say, bolder in His statements. Does He lower the standard, because Satan apparently gains ground, and becomes more and more audacious against Christ? And are we to say, "We must not be so particular now, because there is so much evil;" and "there is no hope, because the church is in ruins?" On the contrary the Spirit, making provision for the latest time, uses stronger language than ever. He says (verse 10), "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him good speed [greeting]." We are to have nothing to say to him. Not only was he not to be received into the church, the house of the living God, but not even into a Christian's house. He must have no sanction nor footing among the saints; for the Christian's house ought to be a fortress for the name of the Lord, a reflection of what the Lord loves and produces — where He is owned and honoured. Even ordinary greeting is to be refused. No matter if it be only to the lady that he is writing — one who is not called to teach or to rule. But when it is a question of Christ, it is in vain to talk about her being a woman, as an excuse for laxity. She wants Christ; she owes all to Christ; and if she is a woman, is she not bound to make Christ the first question, the object of her soul? Therefore, if any person touches Christ, no matter who or what she may be, her allegiance to Christ calls for promptness and decision. That at once becomes the governing motive to faith, and the one grand responsibility of her soul. Whether it be persons who have the spirit of antichrist, or the great antichrist himself that is coming, antagonism to Christ is there; and this decides all to a true heart.
In the Revelation antichrist is described, not merely as a deceiver, but as a "beast," as an earthly power which has a subject kingdom — an imperial system, in fact, rather than a purely spiritual malignant influence, as in the Epistles of John. If we look a little at some of the Jewish prophets, we shall find more about him. I refer more particularly to Daniel 11. Towards the close (verse 36) we read these words: "The king shall do according to his will; … and he shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods." Who can deny you have a self-exalting personage in the land of Judea? This is very plain; for lower down it is said that "in his estate shall he honour the god of forces: a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honour with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things. Thus shall he do in the most strongholds with a strange god, etc. … And he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for gain." Now, I think that wherever the Holy Ghost speaks of a land in this way, as the land, it refers to the land of Israel. He speaks of it as the Lord's own land. This is confirmed a verse or two afterwards (verse 41). "He [the king of the north] shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown." Thus a great northern antagonist is to come against the king (verse 40) "like a whirlwind, with chariots and with horsemen," etc. Most evidently, then, the glorious land spoken of here is the very country which "the king" had been distributing to his favourites. In short, he is a king in the land of Judea, and it is expressly said that the period, policy, and conflicts described are "at the time of the end." Then "shall the king of the south push at him [the king in Judea]; and the king of the north shall come against him," etc.
If this be so, several points are cleared in these verses. First of all a king, who does according to his own will, establishes himself in the land of Palestine. But while you may find the moral features that link him with the "antichrist" of John, he is viewed here as an earthly power, and is thus connected with one of the beasts of the Revelation. But more than that, he is to exalt and magnify himself above every god. This was a novel feature. The Roman emperors had honours paid to them in life and after death as divine; yet never above every god. But "the king" shall magnify himself supremely; and this in a land that was specially Jehovah's above all others, and amongst a people whom God had called out to be a witness against all idolatry; and yet this man claims a new and most audacious worship, as the Most High in God's land and temple. (Compare 2 Thess. 2.) For bad as Israel had been of old, enflaming themselves "with idols under every green tree," here we have the sight, hitherto unknown, of a man setting himself up as the supreme God. And yet he has an object of worship himself: for man must have an idol which enslaves him, unless he is truly exalted, as alone he can be in bowing down before the true God. In reality he is most elevated when most subject to God. For man, unlike God, cannot suffice in and for himself without another. He must either raise his eyes to the true God, or degrade them on a false one. Even the very person who will try to get all beneath him, as supreme object of worship, will himself have something to which he is subject. And so we find (verse 37) that while he does not regard the God of his fathers (which confirms his being a Jew), nor the desire of women (which probably refers to the Messiah), nor regard any god, for he shall magnify himself above all; yet the Spirit of God shows us this apparent self-contradiction (verse 38). "In his estate shall he honour the god of forces." All others are to honour him, but he has this false god whom he himself honours "with gold, and silver, and precious stones, and pleasant things. Thus shall he do with a strange god, whom he shall acknowledge and increase with glory … And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him, and the king of the north shall come against him. He shall enter also into the glorious land."
Now here plainly we have Palestine. The kings of the south and north are so called with reference to the land of Judea. The king of the north, described as coming against him with this large force, is the enemy so familiar in the prophets, while the king of the south is the then sovereign of Egypt.
These two powers come up against "the king," who, I apprehend, is the antichrist of scripture. The Holy Ghost does not here describe his rise. There was no need to say who he was, but he is brought in quite abruptly. Thus, if verse 35 be examined, one sees clearly that it speaks of some who had understanding, referring to what took place in the time of the Maccabees, when a celebrated and most wicked prince, Antiochus Epiphanes, persecuted the Jews, many of whom then withstood him in a remarkable way. There might have been a good deal of nature and the spirit of the world in their feelings and actions; nevertheless they resisted all efforts to turn them away from Jehovah to idols. Some of them fell, and this was in order to try others, and "to purge and to make them white, even to the time of the end: because it is yet for a time appointed."
Here precisely comes in the space where the Spirit of God drops the past history. He first gives us the struggle between Antiochus and his adversaries, followed by the exploits and the sufferings of those who had understanding in Israel. The history of Israel is then in abeyance, and we are at once carried on to "the time of the end." Between these two points there is a suspension of their history.
What is the next thing? "And the king shall do according to his will." We are not here told anything about his origin or progress; we hear nothing whence he comes; we have only that peculiar phrase, "the king," as if this would be intimation enough who was intended. Nor is it the only place in Scripture where "the king" is spoken of. Look at the close of Isaiah 30 and you will find "the king" introduced there in no less singular a manner. The reason, I believe, is this; that the Jews, while they were looking for Christ, were also looking for antichrist, a great prince who should trample down the godly among them in their final tribulation. It was plain in prophecy and so understood by them. In this ch. 30 the Spirit of God describes two enemies of Israel. First in verse 31 it is said, "For through the voice of Jehovah, shall the Assyrian be broken down which smote with a rod." This is the king of the north that figures in Daniel, typified in the early prophet perhaps by Sennacherib, who was the Assyrian of that day, but of course only a foreshadow of the great northern enemy at the close. Then again it is said, "And in every place where the grounded staff shall pass, which Jehovah shall lay upon him, it shall be with tabrets and harps; and in battles of shaking will he fight with it." Thus, although there will be such sorrow and trial, there will be joy too: "it shall be with tabrets and harps." "For Tophet is ordained of old: for the king also it is prepared." This I believe to be the force of it — "for the king also." Thus, if the statement made be correct, you have at the closing scene the judgment of God on these two great enemies of Israel — the Assyrian, and "the king" who is introduced here without a word of preparation.
In Isaiah 57 the same thing appears. I refer to it the more, as some might argue that in Isa. 30 "the Assyrian" and "the king" are identical. But in Isa. 57 it would be impossible to maintain this. The prophet has just been describing the appalling moral evil of the last days among the Jews. Then suddenly he says (ver. 9), "Thou wentest to the king with ointment," etc. It is plain from this, that "the king" is some special antagonist of God, not attacking the Jews from without like the Assyrian, but setting himself up within as king over the people of God. It was not necessary to define what king, because it was a familiar idea to Israel, so that the Holy Ghost could introduce him without a word of preface. They knew there was the terrible king to come — the last great enemy of God and the Jews in the land. The Assyrian is an enemy of God and of Israel too, but not in the land; for he fights against "the king" who is reigning there. The last wilful king is the object of attack to the last mighty Assyrian. Outrageously wicked as both are to be, they do not at all agree in their wickedness. They stand in each other's way. There never can be lasting peace between them, and this is exactly what Daniel 11 shows us. The forty-first verse is not at all a description of "the king." He seems to be lost to view, and there follows the account of the proud king of Assyria. The Holy Ghost presses on to the end of the Assyrian's career, leaving that of "the king."
Looking now at the New Testament, we shall find some new features about this king. In 2 Thess. 2* we have the fullest account of him that the Epistles of St. Paul afford. In verse 3 it is said, "Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come,] except there come the falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." There is first the falling away, that is the special apostacy. The man of sin is another and subsequent thing. The apostacy prepares the way for the revelation of the man of sin. Thus the French revolution answers to the apostacy rather than Romanism, which confesses truths, but all of them put out of their right place. There will be a further and more terrible development of the apostacy, though this illustrates it. But there is to be more than that — the man of sin. Who is he? The Lord Jesus Christ was the man of righteousness. This is the antagonist — the man of sin — "the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped." Just the same sort of moral features that we see in Daniel about "the king," we have in this man of sin. "So that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." Here we have another point. He is evidently one reigning at Jerusalem. He sits "in the temple of God," which, I see no reason to doubt, means the literal and well-known temple there.† At the same time, if anybody likes to apply the principle of this scripture to one who may pervert the place of the church, and make it an engine and sphere for exalting himself in now, I have nothing to object. I dare say that it may legitimately be so applied — at least in part; but I think that it looks on to a person who arrogates to himself the honour due only to the true God. "Remember ye not," the apostle says, "that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work." Only there is one that hinders. When that hindrance is removed, the lawless one will immediately be seen, and in due time his judgment come when the Lord appears.
*I take the opportunity of stating my conviction, which I have reason to know Mr. Birks shares, that the auth. ver. is quite justified in giving "by the coming (or presence) of our Lord Jesus Christ," rather than "with regard to." So it is in the AEthiopic probably, the Arabic, Gothic, Syriac, and Vulgate. Mr. Elliott, and the commentators he follows, have overlooked the most important elements for deciding the true meaning. It is not a question of ὑπέρ only, but of ὑπέρ with a verb of entreating, which yields regularly the sense "for the sake of" or "by." (Matthiae's Gr. Gram. vol. ii. § 582; Jelf, vol. ii. § 630.)
Bp. Ellicott avoids the error of Mr. Elliott, who doubts whether ὑπέρ ever bears what he calls the "adjurative sense;" but, while admitting that it is "grammatically tenable," he contends that it is by no means "exegetically probable," and that it is without precedent in the New Testament. But the latter is an unreasonable objection; because there is no other instance in the New Testament, that I know, of ἐρωτὰω, or an equivalent word, with this preposition (save 2 Cor. 5:20, which Wahl takes as = per, Mr. Green as "on behalf of," which is inapplicable here; but I wave this as doubtful); and therefore we must be regulated by its ordinary force in such constructions. But we have frequently ἐπ. with περί there, which carries a sense entirely different.
Again, the real source of the difficulty is owing to the exegetical mistake that the presence of the Lord is the same thing as His day. It would be most unnatural, as Dean Alford argues, that the apostle should conjure them by that concerning which he was about to teach them. But the apostle does no such thing; on the contrary, he entreats them by "the coming" of Christ with all its cheering associations and its bright hope — the gathering of the saints to their Lord, that they should not be agitated by the terrors of "the day," which false teachers pretended was actually present. Both the Dean of Canterbury and Bishop of Bristol agree with me that ενέστηκεν means "is already come," not merely "at hand," as very faultily represented in the English Bible. St. Paul in the first Epistle had already taught the Thessalonians their hope, as he had also in his oral ministry respecting the man of sin, and the hindrance which actually operated against his manifestation. He now puts these truths in their order, and beseeches them by Christ's coming, as a known motive on account of which they should not be moved by the false alarm that this familiar and dreaded day of trouble was arrived. It is the presence (παρουσία) of the Lord which gathers the saints to meet Him above; it is the epiphany or shining forth of His presence which destroys the lawless one below — a manifestly subsequent event, spite of Bengel, as appears beyond a doubt from comparing it with Rev. 19. The saints are already with Christ, and follow Him out of heaven for the judgment of the beast and the false prophet and their adherents. The document on which the errorists rested was a pretended letter of the apostle, not the first Epistle to the Thessalonians, as some wrongly assert: and the feeling they sought to excite was not the hope of Christ's coming, but the fear of His day. The criticism and the doctrine of the Horae Apoc. as to this are unfounded.
Others are no better. Schleusner who is quoted writes loosely; and the words of Hesychius (vol. i. col. 1233, ed. Alberti) do not warrant the inference that the same word in the same tense means either present or future; for προκείμενον seems only a following up of πάροντα, not another variety of signification. The verb is generally used for what lies stretched before, as (meats) ready laid, the question in hand, things already settled and agreed on. I am not aware of its ever distinctly meaning the future. But so emphatically the contrary is ἐνεστώς that, as is well known, grammarians have selected it as the proper term for the present tense (χρόνος ἐνεστώς). The latest (sixth) edition of Liddell and Scott's Lexicon shows their statement modified as to this; as in fact none of the three instances cited from classical authors (Ar. Nub. 779, Isaeus, 88. 40, Dem. 896. 49) necessarily means impending, Lat. imminens. Dr. Scott has himself acknowledged to me that they may all, as I believe they all do, mean "present," and thus harmonize instead of clashing with the regular force of the word everywhere else, both in the Sept. (including the Apocrypha) and the New Testament. Thus the passage in the Clouds means "while one suit was still pending," i.e., actually going on, not impending or future. Again, Mr. E. does not appear to have hit the force of Isaeus on the estate of Hagnias; and here, though I have no doubt whatever, I prefer for obvious reasons to cite from the celebrated Sir W. Jones's version, p. 139 (London, 1779). "Moreover the inheritance of Hagnias is not yet well secured to me, since some actions brought against the witnesses for perjury will make it necessary for me to obtain a second adjudication," This is a very different thing from an "impending trial;" and confirms the general rule instead of being an exception for which we have to account. In the demurrer in reference to Apaturius, the third alleged exception, the suits were already begun when they came to arbitration.
So the argument on πάρεστιν, John 11:28-30, is invalid for Mr. E. and rather strengthens what he contends against. For our Lord had actually quitted the place where He was when the news of the sickness of Lazarus arrived, traversed the considerable intervening distance, and was only just outside the village. Πάρεστιν is strictly true there, and in no way modifies ἐνέστηκεν in our text. If the false teachers at Thessalonica taught that the Lord had left the right hand of God and begun the judgments of "that day," without having yet caught up the saints in Thessalonica or anywhere else, it would be quite parallel to the case of John 11. The word therefore retains here also and everywhere its characteristic sense.
†The allusion is obvious and undeniable to Dan. 11, which has the Jews and their land in view, not the church. This I consider entirely confirmed by Matt. 24:15, which certainly refers to a thing and time subsequent to Christ's rejection by the Jews and His rejection of them; but as clearly, to my mind, looks on to a time when He will again have a godly remnant, in the midst of an unbelieving generation governed by a false king under Roman influence. If, under such circumstances, the temple can be called the "holy place," why may it not be also "the temple of God?" The reasoning from what the house of God is now, while the church abides here, is quite nugatory. Compare also "the holy city" in Matt. 27:53. God's purpose is not revoked, spite of Israel's guilt.
Just as the apostle John says, "Even now are there many antichrists;" so here the mystery of iniquity was already working: only one was holding things in abeyance just now. "He who now letteth [will let] until he be taken out of the way." I do not the least doubt that the hinderer is the power of the Spirit of God, not merely dwelling in the church, but acting in the way of control in the world, as the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. If it were simply the Holy Ghost dwelling in the church, the moment the church was taken away, the man of sin would be revealed. But it appears that the lawless one will not arrive at his full stature and manifestation immediately on the rapture of the saints. There will be an interval and a testimony which God will give. When this testimony disappears, or is put down by violence, the man of sin comes out full-blown. This seems to be the hour when the Holy Ghost ceases to restrain. He lets men show out then just what they are; and all their wickedness comes forth. The Holy Ghost thus no longer controlling the earth, Satan will be allowed to mature his worst plans for a very brief moment.
This, I think, is the time, and such its character, when the hinderer or hindrance will be taken out of the way. The early Christians used for many years to pray for the continuance of the Roman empire, because they thought it was the letting thing; that gone, they expected the lawless one to be revealed forthwith. And as its diabolical form is assuredly to arise after a previous existence and extinction, there was a certain measure of truth in their thought. But the Roman empire has long been extinct, and yet the man of sin in his full development has not yet been revealed. The re-appearance of the empire, not its extinction, is the critical epoch; and that will depend on the Holy Ghost's ceasing to restrain. When it does take place, all the evil of man and of Satan comes out without measure or disguise. "Only he who now letteth [will let] until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that lawless one be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the shining forth of his presence."
Revelation 19 describes this destruction. In that chapter (verse 20), after a previous description of the coming of the Lord in judgment, it is said, "The beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him … These both were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone." They are, without doubt, the same systems or persons already characterized as the beasts from the sea and the earth in Rev. 13. Now it is plain that one or other of these two beasts is antichrist. The question still remains, which of them is that man of sin? Is it the great power of the world, the beast that rises out of the sea? Or is it the other energetic beast that rises out of the earth, imitating Christ in royal and prophetic power? Disposed to think it is the latter,* I can frankly allow that I see difficulties, and believe it is not a thing to be dogmatized upon. Indeed these beasts are so closely linked together in their actions and objects, and also in their final doom, that we cannot be surprised if many find it hard to decide, or if intelligent minds come to different conclusions. But the more that I weigh what is said in St. Paul about the man of sin, and in St. John's Epistles about the antichrist, my mind looks out for the beast that has most appearance of rivalling and opposing Christ. This I find emphatically in the beast that rises out of the earth.
*So Hippolytus Romanus, a martyr under Maximin or Decius, and said by Photius to have been a disciple of Irenaeus. It would seem from Jerome that he wrote formally on the Apocalypse, beside the short treatise still extant περὶ τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰ. Χ. καὶ περί τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου. In this last (§ 49) he thus speaks of the second beast: τὸ μὲν οὖν θηρίον ἀναβαῖνον ἐκ τῆς γῆς τὴν βασιλείαν τὴν τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου ἐσομένην λέγει.
Let us now consider a little what the chapter further gives us, bringing the light that we have gathered from other parts of the scriptures to bear upon our enquiry. After the description of the beast in verse 11, we read of the exercise of his power (verse 12). "He exerciseth all the authority of the first beast before him," that is, in his presence. He is the energetic power, the one that cares much more for real influence and energy than for outward show which was what the first beast most valued. "He caused the earth and those that dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed." Observe again here that those that dwell on the earth are abandoned to his delusive power.
Some, seeing that the second beast works to procure worship for the first beast, have conceived that 2 Thess. 2 negatives the idea that the second beast is the same as the man of sin; because there he is represented as allowing no other object of worship than himself. But it is manifest that there are three persons who are closely connected together in this scene — the dragon, the world-power or first beast, and the politico-religious or second beast. It appears from Rev. 13:4, that the dragon is worshipped as well as the first beast; so that whether we suppose the first beast or the second to be the antichrist and man of sin, the difficulty would remain nearly the same. In either case the worship is shared by another. In point of fact, they are the anti-trinity, and find their bond in the unseen power of Satan.
The second beast is very important. He is the really active power in the Holy Land. The beast out of the sea has his dominion over the west, with large influence beyond it; but Palestine or Jerusalem is not his sphere, save that he destroys the witnesses and falls there. It is the second beast that is the great power known to the Holy Land. "He doeth great signs, so that he maketh even fire come down from heaven unto the earth in the sight of men" (verse 13). What imparts such deep and painful interest to the miracle is this: it was the special sign whereby Elijah confounded the false prophets of Baal. When the whole question lay between God and Baal, what was the turning-point that decided the claims of Jehovah against the false god? It was this very thing — fire coming down from heaven. It had been a familiar token in Israel, and one that they might justly connect with the direct approval and power of God. For He had caused fire to come down from heaven at various times, as a signal proof of His approbation. Fire came out from before the Lord when the priests were consecrated; the same thing too when the temple was built and hallowed by Solomon. (2 Chron. 7.) "Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt-offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house." It was the crowning evidence of Jehovah's presence connected with Israel — of His presence filling the scene and accepting their sacrifices.
Here then is this frightful imitator and antagonist of the Lord Jesus, who sets himself up to be the God of Israel as well as the Christ. The true Messiah was the God of Israel, and here we find His majesty and claims and power emulated; the antichrist too must cause fire to come down from heaven. I do not say fire really from heaven, but the appearance of it; in the sight of men it was fire coming from heaven. As Satan could imitate, so here was this wicked power, whose presence was after the working of Satan, doing apparently what Elijah had done. The same proof that Elijah had given for Jehovah, against Baal is the one that he offers here in his own name. It is an awful scene, and still more so if compared with the passage in 2 Thess. 2:9. For, sad to say, the very same words that are used in speaking of the miracles of Christ, in Acts 2:22, are applied here by the Holy Ghost to the man of sin. "Jesus of Nazareth," said St. Peter, "a man approved of God among you, by miracles, and wonders, and signs." So in 2 Thess. the lawless man is one "whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders." The peculiar signs of Christ, that men should know the truth, are imitated by this impostor. He performs for falsehood similar things, and men are completely taken in and deceived.
What prepares the way for such an end is the dissatisfaction that men will feel with Christendom as it is. I acknowledge that they justly speak evil against the state into which Christianity has got. When it loses its heavenly separateness, and is mingled with worldly principles, confusion is the result. They forget that Satan is the god of this world. Hence he has blinded them entirely as to what the church of God is, and what is due to the name of His Son here below. Christ is plainly left out of the question, and even the truthfulness is wanting which would be required by men in the commonest things of this life. It is not that one would desire to say a word against others; but God forbid that we should not judge, with all heart and conscience, a thing that is even beneath common honesty in the things of this life. When the church, or the individual Christian, ceases to judge, or if it condemn in heart, allows in practice, in the holiest things, that which a natural man does not in human and social relations; so that even the very world can see that what clothes itself with the name of Christ is all wrong; — when such a time as this arrives, can God longer refrain? Judgment is coming apace; and what a mercy it is that God has given us something sweet as our hope and happiness, and not the perpetual dark foreboding of most certain judgment! Our portion is outside the sphere of the world. Judgment there must be before the world can be fully blest. If a person were merely to dwell on evil and its judgment, do you think it would give power to act for good? It is not the showing up of what is wrong, but bringing grace and truth to act on our souls which gives power: otherwise it might only be getting out of one form of evil to fall into another. The only real security is the getting near to Christ: we help other souls just so far as we put them in contact with Him.
We have seen, then, that this great enemy of God will be permitted to do wonders in imitation of the power of Christ, and in support of his claim to be Jehovah. It is not surprising that he deceives those that dwell on the earth. And what rapidly prepares the way, and ripens men for all, is that they are now listening to Satan, who has been dissolving confidence in the miracles of Christ, and the scriptures which relate them. Thus, when men not only review but see the horrors of what has taken place in Christendom under their eyes, and when they are left without the love of the truth in their hearts, they will be at the mercy of Satan. Then, when men's desires are gratified without conscience, and God Himself in righteous retribution sends strong delusion that they should believe the lie, (saying to them, so to speak, "You have refused the truth that you might be saved: now, then, have all you like,") — then this personage comes forward, and these wonders are done that affect to be signs from heaven. Is it amazing that they fall down and worship the beast and his image?
It is Satan, of course, who is behind the scenes; but his slave, the second beast, "deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast: saying to them that dwell on the earth,* that they should make an image to the beast which had the wound by a sword and did live. And he had power to give life [or breath] … that the image of the beast should both speak and cause† that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed" (verses 14, 15).
*I am not prepared to affirm that "the abomination of desolation," of which our Lord speaks in Matt. 24, referring to Daniel 12:11, is the same as "the image" before us. It is absurd to suppose that our Lord alluded to the defilement of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes. (Dan. 11:31.) This was long past; whereas He is warning of another abomination yet future and final. Hence too it may be observed that the phrase given by the evangelist answers exactly (not to Dan. 11:31, but) to Dan. 12:11 in the LXX. In Dan. 8:13 it is another thing, "the transgression of desolation;" and in Dan. 9:27, though there may be a link of connection it is, I think, "because of the wing, i.e. (the protection) of abominations [there shall be] a desolator;" a very distinct statement, even if it be allowed to refer to the same time. The sense is that antichrist sets up idolatry in the temple, because of which a desolator appears in the person of the great northern enemy of Israel. The effort to apply it to the Romans under Titus, or to the Pope, is utterly vain. The former is probably due to the error of confounding Matt. 24:15, etc., with Luke 21:21. It is the latter only who brings in the Roman siege and captivity, as he alone treats of the times of the Gentiles. Matthew on the other hand, equally inspired of God, leaves out this part of our Lord's great prophecy, and dwells at length on the closing crisis, in answer to the question of the end of the age, which Luke accordingly omits.
†It is possible that the meaning may be, "that the image of the beast should both speak and act [or practise]; in order that as many," etc. If so, the statement attributes to the beast's image the same things which characterise the beast in verse 5.
Observe, by the way, a further proof that this second beast is after the final rise of the first beast; for he causes an image to be made "to the beast which had the wound by a sword and did live." "And he caused all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive* a mark on their right hand or on their forehead. And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name" (verses 16, 17). That mark was a seal of subjection or slavery to the beast.
*Literally, "that they should give them," i.e., that a mark should be given them. Compare Rev. 10:11, "they say to me," i.e., it is said. (See Luke 6:38; Luke 12:20; Luke 16:9, for a similar usage, the first and especially the last of which am often misunderstood.)
"Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man, and his number [is] 666" (verse 18). I do not pretend to solve any such question as this. It would be easy to repeat what others have thought. Some of the early Christians, especially the pious Bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus, supposed that it was "the Latin man." Others have found various names, in accordance with their polemics and prejudices. Romanists discovered in it the enigma of Luther, Protestants, the name of more than one Pope. Mahomet in ancient, and Napoleon in modern times have been imagined. But are such notions better than conundrums? It is not the way of the Spirit to occupy God's people with reckoning letters or numbers after this vague fashion. May we not be satisfied that this is one of the points of detail left for "the wise" of the latter day, and that when the time comes the clue will be given, and all the light that may be required? For there is in the ways of God a sort of economy, at least when we come to matters of detail and application. Just as He does not give a saint the strength to bear him through a special trial till it is at the doors, so the Lord may only vouchsafe the needed instruction about this number when the man himself appears.
The application of the prophecy to a particular person will be the point then. It seems premature and useless to discuss such a question till the parties are on the stage. The wise shall understand then, and all will be as clear as day to them, but not to the wicked. (See Dan. 12.) The general truth, however, is plain. There is this second "beast," the active, energetic power that opposes Christ; but when the day of reckoning comes, and the judgment of the Lord is upon him, he will be no longer spoken of as a beast, but as the "false prophet" that wrought miracles. (Rev. 19:20.) Supposing the second beast to be antichrist, I am inclined to think that there is a spurious imitation of Christ in his causing the first beast to be worshipped. The Lord Jesus spake and wrought for the purpose of exalting God the Father, while the Father Himself makes Christ the special object. "Let all the angels of God worship him" [the Son]; and again, "that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father." So it is with the beast. He will help to exalt the great world-power; but withal he equally, and yet more in spiritual things, exalts himself. He has horns like a lamb. That is, he pretends to the power of Christ. But he speaks as a dragon (i.e., the expression of his mind is Satanic). Being a beast, it is intimated that he is invested with temporal authority; while he is also expressly designated a false prophet. Thus it is a personal antagonist of what Christ was and will be, rather than of what He is. Popery — Anti-Christendom, if you will — is a travesty of Christ's priesthood, and will perish with all that partakes its sin in the gainsaying of Korah. But here (when Christ, having closed His heavenly work, is about to assume His earthly royal dignity) is one who opposes and exalts himself in the city of the great king. For it is the Holy Land that is the central seat of his power and deceits. He is, I think, the person that the Lord Jesus referred to in contrast with Himself in a passage just quoted in part, where He sums up all in a few little words (John 5:43); "I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive." The Jews would not have Him who came from the Father. His sent One and servant, though His equal in honour and power, had so come and been refused. But there was one whom they are to receive, one who will flatter and exalt man in sin; for he will own no authority higher than his own, and this is the echo of man's will. Him I believe to be the personage we have here — one who, as to actual territorial dominion and external splendour, may have a superior, but who in point of spiritual energy and weight is pre-eminent.
Having already given so fully that which seems to me the true view of the very important chapter which has just occupied us, I need not say much of counter-expositions, many grounds of which have been already set aside by anticipation. Mr. Elliott is perhaps more than usually confident in his hypothesis that the beast from the sea represents the character and history of the Roman Popes and Papal Christendom, and the two-horned beast the Papal clergy, with the image of the beast as the Papal councils. It is impossible to call this, at least, the Protestant interpretation. For even Luther made the first beast to be the Latin secular, the second the spiritual, power; while Bullinger viewed the former as the Pagan Roman empire, as did Foxe. Brightman, no doubt, was even more zealous than Mr. E., for he makes both beasts to set forth the Popes. But what is of more consequence, the learned Joseph Mede, and, as far as I can collect, Dr. Cressener, Jurieu and Daubuz certainly rejected these notions, regarding the first beast as the Roman secular empire, and the second as the ecclesiastical beast, though with characteristic points of difference. So, in the main, Sir I. Newton. If we enquire of their successors nearer our own day, the case is no better by Mr. Elliott's own account. "The explanation of this first beast as the secular Emperor and Empire of Western Christendom, and of the second beast as the Pope and Pontifical Empire, so as most of our modern English expositors have taken it; (e.g., Faber, Cuninghame, Bickersteth, etc.;) but I conceive to have been one of the most plain, as well as most fatal, of Protestant expository errors" (vol. iii. p. 109, note 2). Surely then, if so plain and fatal, Mr. E.'s elaborate array of evidence, and acute correction of the Protestant expository error, have been successful with every fair mind! Alas! no. Perhaps the chief independent exposition, since the Horae Apoc., is the Rationale Apocalypticum of Mr. Alfred Jenour (2 vols. 8vo, 1852); and there I read that the wild beast from the sea "must symbolize an empire about to rise after the ancient Heathen empire had been destroyed, and which would be, as it were, that empire revived. It must represent too, I think, obviously a secular empire, not a spiritual or ecclesiastical dominion. There is nothing to indicate that it partakes in any degree of a spiritual or ecclesiastical character. And I cannot, therefore, but express my astonishment that so many commentators should have acquiesced in the interpretation which makes this sea-born wild beast the Papacy. There is not a single feature in the description of the beast itself that can with propriety be so applied. It is, as I have said, a secular not a spiritual power we have here delineated" (vol. ii. p. 75).
On the one hand, then, I agree with Mr. Elliott that it is impossible fairly to interpret the beast from the sea of the empire founded by Clovis and completed by Charlemagne. Neither the seven heads nor the ten horns, neither the dragon-character, nor in any sense the duration, can bear a reasonable application to it. On the other hand, I am compelled to agree with the earliest down to the latest, and including some of the very ablest of Protestants, that not the Papacy is meant but the secular Roman Empire. The conclusion is irresistible. Allowing an inconclusive accomplishment in the Papacy and its clerical supports, I steadily adhere to the conviction that the future alone can exhibit the fulfilment of all the features predicted, without constraint and in all their strength.
It is not true that the Papacy has the command of the Western powers which is here supposed, still less practises for 1260 years with such unlimited dominion. It is not true that the Pope has authority given him over every kindred and people and tongue and nation, even if you confound this with (instead of distinguishing it from) the dwellers in the Roman world. It is not true that the Pope is the object of all the world's wonder, nor that the confession is extorted, "Who is able to make war with him?" Nor do all, save the elect, in Western Christendom worship him. Need I show how palpably inapplicable is the second beast to those wolves in sheep's clothing, the Papal clergy? Do they exercise the enormous power, all the power, of the first beast? And in what fair sense do they perform great miracles or signs, so as to make fire come down from heaven in men's sight? Is it possible that any person, save blinded by system, could be content with such an accomplishment as the wicked and idolatrous figment of the mass, or the lightnings of the Vatican?
The Lord grant that we may deny ungodliness and worldly 1usts, and this not only for wrath, but for conscience' sake! Yea, may we be separated to Christ in a spirit of heavenly grace! How base to think we can take care when the time comes? Baser still, if possible, to plead that the church of God will be previously taken out of the way to heaven — that because all will be right then, we can afford to do wrong now! Remember, that Meanwhile, as the apostle said, are there many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time. Now, if you are allowing the spirit of the world, or are trifling with any of the influences of antichrist at the present moment, what would you do if exposed to all the fearful persecutions on the one hand, and to all the temptations on the other, of the day when the man of sin will be revealed? God's grace might strengthen me to face all danger, and to refuse every blandishment, rather than abjure the true and worship the false God and Christ. But is it not most solemn and humbling if I join (no matter what the motive) in any fellowship with known evil?
And here is the great, moral, present value of prophecy. I see the frightful fall at the end, and can trace the stream that runs down to it. Perhaps the way is long and winding, and the river does not seem so perilous; but look a little lower down, where the word of God lifts up the misty veil which shrouds the future, and behold the fatal speed with which all who float there are engulfed to their utter destruction! There are many currents connected with the world, and I may not see in their sources and first flowings the full extent of the evil which is the inevitable result. In prophecy God graciously shows me the end from the beginning; so that, if I heed it not, I am dishonouring the warning of His love, who would have me "knowing these things before." Let us also beware not merely of one evil, but of its every form: especially let us not meddle with it wherever it assumes a Christ-like form in association with the world. Here we have the end of the open, blasphemous power, as well as of the more active and subtle spiritual evil of the crisis.* Men will be caught in one or other of these snares — the bold infidelity or the religious pravity of the last days. However they may differ in appearance, they are found in the strictest, saddest, most fatal union at the close. The Lord grant that our hearts may be kept looking to Christ and waiting for Him from heaven! There is no full comfort or blessing, except so far as the eye is single to Him.
*It is not surprising that those who are greatly occupied with present things feel the deepest amazement and abhorrence, not at the antichrist as futurists depict it, but at Popery as it has been and is, with its recognition of so much revealed truth, and withal its destruction of the efficacy of redemption and of all immediate relationship with God, not to speak of its hideous idolatries and its systematic persecution of those who do not bow to it, let them be saints or not. But the more such minds bring out its subtle hypocrisy, the more they seem to prove that Romanism corresponds with the mystery of iniquity. Of course, its working in apostolic days was but a germ of what afterwards went on, till it issued in that frightful corruption which Protestants have done faithful service in exposing with unquestionable vigour and earnestness. Hence, in Rev. 17 it is the corrupt woman (not the ravening beast) whose name is "Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth." And observe, it was the sight of the woman which caused John to wonder so exceedingly. Still, "the apostacy," as I read scripture, implies the public renunciation of Christian truth, not an orthodox maintenance of the cardinal facts, at any rate, of the gospel, such as Romanism holds up; and the session and worship of the man of sin in the temple of God implies a defiance of Jehovah, under the false expectation of Israel, which looks onward to another and more daring form of Satan's power.
This chapter is the concluding one of the episode that separates the trumpets from the vials. We heard the events under the last trumpet announced; but the details and the means of their actual accomplishment were not revealed to us. There were songs in heaven celebrating its results; but the immediate effect of the last trumpet on earth was only spoken of in a general way; and this going down to the end of all, including even the final judgment of the dead.*
*Hence it is going too far, and indeed not only without proof but inaccurate, to say that the vials are the evolution of the seventh trumpet. It is of no weight to allege that the trumpets are the development of the last seal. This I doubt not, because there is absolutely nothing under that seal, save a half-hour's silence in heaven, and then the trumpets are given to the seven angels, etc. But there is nothing analogous at the close of Rev. 11. For on the face of the matter, Revelation 12, 13, 14 intervene, the last of which contains the vision of a scene of judgment by the Son of man, which is unquestionably subsequent to the vials. Again, what more fanciful than the opistho-graphic theory (Horae Apocalypticae, vol. i. p. 99; iii. p. 4), that is, the notion that the writing without and within answers to the twofold series of visions, one of which, relating to matter chiefly secular, ends in Revelation 11, and the other of which, chiefly ecclesiastical, begins after that? Certainly, neither Ezekiel 3:9-10, nor Zechariah 5:1-3 lends the slightest countenance to it, but rather the contrary.
Then the Holy Ghost, as we have seen, in Revelation 12, 13, turns aside to show us the source, character, and leading instruments of the last outbreak of evil, on which the vials were to be poured out, after which the Lord is to act in personal vengeance. We are come, let us suppose, in some comprehensive history, to an account of a battle which decides the fate of the world at any time. The author stops to describe the previous state of the parties and the causes that led to the crisis. Exactly so with what we have here, the earnest of retribution, as it were, is given us under the vials. Thus, Revelation 12 and 13, not to speak of Revelation 14, show us what it was that led to such a dreadful out-pouring of God's wrath. So that, though they may appear to be an interruption, it was necessary for impressing on us adequately the horribleness of the evil the Lord was dealing with. We saw in Revelation 12 that Satan was the mighty and subtle spring behind the scene, hating and opposing Christ and His people from the very beginning. Then there was the war in heaven between Michael and the dragon, with their respective angels; and finally the conduct of Satan, when cast down unto the earth, was traced and explained. Again, Revelation 13 shows us that, just as God revealed Himself to man, not only in tables of stone, but in the person of His Son, in order that men might see divine grace so as no tables of stone could display it (but rather the reverse), and that they might hear it in their own familiar tones; so Satan finds a policy suited to his ends, in taking up men on earth and making them the instruments and expression of his will. Accordingly he acts by the two beasts which represent two great systems or their leaders that will be at work during the short season of our adversary's great wrath on earth. The violence of the world and its pride and blasphemy are set forth by the beast that rises out of the sea. The beast from the earth is as much suited to ensnare men who desire a religion which excludes God and panders to man and the world, as the other intimidated them by its power, or enticed them by its appeals to their ambition and love of outward show.
But then the question arises, If Satan is so busy himself and his instruments, what is God doing? Is He inactive — indifferent He could not be — all this time? Revelation 14 seems to be the answer to that question. The perversion of everything God has given to man, and of all Satan can devise, will come to a fearful issue then in a few short months and years. Dreadful as it all is, and though God will have seemingly given up the world, just to see what Satan and men together will make of it, yet none the less God even then and there will be at work. And first, it is not now the heavens, nor the earth, nor the sea: none of these is the ground or scene of what is brought before us in the early verses of this chapter. There is a new spot introduced — one not mentioned before, yet a most important one and full of significance. "And I looked, and, lo! the Lamb stood on the mount Sion." Now let us just pause for a moment and enquire what are the ideas that the Holy Ghost conveys by or connects with the hill of Zion. The Apocalypse everywhere supposes an acquaintance with the other parts of the word of God, from Genesis even to the close of the New Testament. It would be difficult to find any part of scripture that is not required in order to come to a full understanding of this wonderful prophecy.
Let us take the present allusion to Zion as an instance. If I do not know what God teaches elsewhere by mount Zion, how shall I understand what is meant by this opening vision of Rev. 14? The first occasion where Zion comes into view is in the history of David, when he became king over all Israel. (2 Sam. 5) And what was the state of the people then? Israel had previously chosen a king after their own heart; one that reflected them, that could go at their head and fight their battles. "We will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations." Saul was their choice, David the elect of God. Not that David did not need the mercy and forgiveness of God; for indeed after God's favour to him he fell grievously. Beyond question, however, David entered into and responded to the thoughts of God in a most remarkable way. He sinned, it is true, but who felt and owned his sin more thoroughly? Who more than he vindicated God against himself? Neither, on the other hand, did God make light of his sin because he delighted in David. The deed was secret, but it was published upon the housetop. He had dealt treacherously with his faithful servant, and had defiled his servant's house. And what a tale of sorrow did his own house show for many a long year afterwards! (2 Sam. 12.) It was then under David, when Israel had been in confusion, when the priests had corrupted them and the king had wrought no deliverance, when all were in rebellion against God and constantly exposed to the razzias and tyranny of their Philistine neighbours. All was in ruin; the sanctuary, in what a state was it! The very tabernacle and the ark of God were severed. Thus, in all respects, sacred and political, great and small, public and private, the picture was most dismal. And it was then that God began to work energetically by His Spirit in the people. Justly were they suffering under the law which they had undertaken at Sinai. True, there was mercy and faithfulness too, in the midst of all, on God's part; but still evil was fast increasing, and in Israel there was no hope and no resource. And what then? God calls David out step by step, and Zion acquires a most marked place in his history. It was there David's city was built, the seat of his royalty. It may not be thought much of now in the world, but in one sense all the blessing of this world as such is suspended over that little spot; and never will there be rest or glory for the earth until the city, which was a stay in the downward progress of Israel, and was meant to be a resting-place for faith, shall by and by be taken up by God. In the Psalms and the Prophets it constantly reappears, the Spirit of Christ ever leading on the hearts, of the saints to anticipate the full result which the early type promised as it were in the germ.
In Hebrews 12 the Holy Ghost refers to it, though perhaps in a different way. Still the great thought is the intervention of God's race. The passage contrasts the position of Israel with that of the Christian; and, after having described the vision of Sinai, with its blackness, and darkness, and tempest — all most terrible even to the mediator, it proceeds: — "But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," etc. Now there we see just the same great and precious principle. Israel had come to Sinai, and that was the mountain that characterised their whole course from beginning to end. And what was the result of it? As it began with darkness and distance, so it ended with misery and death. As they were and Sinai was, they could not but shrink back from God; for there God was in His majesty of judgment — not in the love that comes down and puts itself under the burden, in order to take it away. That could not be at Sinai; for there it was a just God in the presence of sinners only; and therefore He could but overawe and fill all with terror and the forebodings of judgment. Bounds must be set round the mountain. If even an unconscious beast touched it, death was the penalty; and this was Sinai. "But ye are come," says the Spirit, "unto mount Sion," the mount" of God's intervention in grace, as Sinai was of man's responsibility; and with Sinai, what could be the effect for the sinner? Only to press his conscience with the terror of death. The Israelite was as good as a dead man, when he stood there, being already a sinner; and death would be as surely executed, after he left the burning mount. The Apostle shows the Christian ground of grace, the exact opposite of man trembling before a God who righteously demanded what the flesh could not do. Now, it is God who has come down — it is God who has accomplished His work of love. When Zion first appeared by name, it was when Israel — people, priests, king — had utterly failed. Then God entered unsought, established the king of his own choice in Zion, and raised him and his son to such a pitch of glory as never was or will be in Israel again, till the true David comes and plants His royal glory on Zion, never more to be moved.
The principle involved in Zion, then, is God's activity for His people in the way of grace, when all was lost under the law. This gives the mountain of Zion its true force in Rev. 14. It is the gracious interference of God on behalf of those who sit with the holy sufferer — the Lamb. God acts for His Son, securing His glory on earth and gathering round Him in heart a remnant, not merely sealed as the servants of God (like a similar band out of the twelve tribes of Israel in Revelation 7), but brought into association with the Lamb in Zion, that is, with God's royal purposes in grace. These seem to me sufferers of Judah, who pass through the unequalled tribulation, which it is not said that the other remnant do. This is what is meant by their standing with the Lamb on the mount Zion. There St. John saw them. Of course, I do not mean that in fact they will be on Zion, or that they will necessarily understand what this symbol sets forth. The question is, what God was conveying to John's mind or to any who desire to understand the sayings of this book. It was, I believe, God's special interference on behalf of His people in the last days. He will associate with the Lord Jesus Christ, as the suffering Messiah, a full, numbered, godly remnant, who will be brought into fellowship with Him. There stand in the vision the hundred and forty-four thousand, having the Lamb's name and His Father's name written on their foreheads. It is not said that they know God as their Father. The Revelation never contemplates us in the position of children, much less does it so present the Jewish remnant. Thus, even when speaking of the church, we are said to be made kings and priests unto God and His Father, rather than ours. And this is the more remarkable in John, because no other evangelist takes so much pains to show the relationship of children in which God has put us before Himself now. Thus, in John 20, directly the Lord is risen from the dead, the message to His disciples is, "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." Nothing of this appears here, because the Revelation is not so much intended to open our nearness of relationship to God as our Father, but rather His judgment and glory, though with mercy for a remnant. I speak of the prophetic and earthly portion — not, of course, of that which gives us a glimpse of things above. Thus, the name of the Lamb and the name of His Father (for so it ought to be read) written on their foreheads is in contrast with the name of the beast in Revelation 13. The beast's name or mark was put on the right hand or forehead of his followers. The Lamb's name and His Fathers these hundred and forty-four thousand have on their foreheads — not in their hearts only, if we may so speak; they were evidently and openly the Lamb's.
"And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of loud thunder:* and the voice which I heard [was] as it were of harpers, harping with their harps. And they sing [as it were] a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the elders; and none could learn that song but the hundred forty [and] four thousand that were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are they that follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, first-fruits to God and to the Lamb" (ver. 2-4). Thus they are characterized, besides learning the new song of heaven, negatively by their holy separateness from all the various kinds of idolatry which will then prevail on earth, and positively by their faithful allegiance to the Lamb, whatever the fiery trial. Instead of becoming the slaves of the beast, they were redeemed for the earth's first-fruits to God and the Lamb. They are a very peculiar class, a sort of link between heaven and the earth from which they were redeemed. They were untainted by the corrupt influences of that evil day, and especially are they free from the idolatries that will be one of its most grievous marks. I do not mean idolatry in a vague or virtual sense (as we are warned against covetousness, which is such morally), but positive, literal idolatry. Many may think it absurd to talk about the worship of idols reappearing in lands neither popish nor pagan; but this would only show how little man's heart is known and the power of Satan. The word of God is perfectly explicit that the last days will be characterized by the grossest spirit of idolatry, and this in the most enlightened parts of Christendom, yea, in Jerusalem itself, which will then put forth once more the highest pretensions. It is an apostacy that the heart of man is quite capable of, and to which Christendom will be given up by God, as a just retribution for refusing 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." He will give them up to their own natural lusts; and the heart prefers any and every thing to God.
*"A voice," says Mr. Elliott (H. A., vol. iii. p. 312), "as of many waters, and of a great thunder, — that is of people and princes, — uniting to swell it. There can be no question, I conceive, as to some happy crisis in the earthly fortunes of Christ's saints and people being so prefigured; — some crisis during the Papal beast's reign, or at least before his destruction." And this he goes on to expound of the Reformation. Let the reader turn to Rev. 1, and ask himself the consistency of such an interpretation of the "voice as the sound of many waters." What room is there for dragging in "people" here? and what more for "princes" in Revelation 6:1, where the living creature, as with voice of thunder, summons the rider on the white horse? No reason, indeed, is more decisive against so earthly a view, than that which is furnished by the very text which Mr. E. would have us compare (i.e. Rev. 19:6); for surely if ever there can he conceived a moment when princes and people are not in unison with heaven's new anthem of praise, it is in the crisis which follows the destruction of Babylon and precedes their own still more awful fate in the war with the Lamb.
The saints, associated to the prophet's eye with the Lamb on Zion, are said not to be defiled with women; i.e., they were preserved from the corruptions that surrounded them. They walked in virgin purity. Neither do they wonder after the beast. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersover he goeth. "They were redeemed from among men, first-fruits to God and to the Lamb." They were first-fruits: the harvest would follow in due course. (See verses 14, 16.) "And in their mouth was found no guile [or rather no lie, ψεῦδος], for they are without fault." It is added in our common Bible, "before the throne of God" (verse 5);* but these last words ought not to be there. The best authorities leave them out: and a slight consideration will show how wrongly inserted they seem to be. "They are without fault," or blameless, it is true; but "blameless" here refers, I think, to their practical conduct. If compared with men from whom they were redeemed, such they were. In their presence they were without fault. But suppose God puts them before His throne to search into what they have been here, measured by His holiness — this is another thing. There I need forgiveness; there I need to stand, not in my own blamelessness, but made the righteousness of God in Christ. If I stand as an individual, viewed not in Christ but according to my actual ways, shall I say that I am blameless here? It may make this a little clearer, if we remember 1 John 1, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us;" we do not know the truth about ourselves, and we have no fellowship with Christ in discerning the evil that is there. But "if we say that we have not sinned," we make God a liar, which is far worse than deceiving ourselves. We make Him a liar, and His word is not in us; for He has declared the contrary over and over. But in 1 John 3 what a change! "He that committeth sin is of the devil;" and "whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil." How can we reconcile these two things? How account for the immense difference of the language in Revelation 1 and Revelation 3? Most simply. In chapter 1 the Holy Ghost is leading the Christian to view himself in the light of God's presence: he is before the Father and the Son. He stands before God, if I may so say — not exactly before the throne — but before the Father and the Son. And what will a man say when he stands there? Will he say, I have no sin; I have not sinned? None there will say it. Whoever says so here proves that the truth is not in him — that the word has never searched him. But when God compares His child with those who do not know Himself after a divine sort, He says, "he doth not commit sin," and "he cannot sin."
* It is curious that Mr. Elliott (H. A., iii. part iv. chapter 10), though he rightly rejects or doubts the clause ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου τοῦ Θεοῦ, nevertheless repeatedly, both in Greek and English, inserts another clause which has absolutely no warrant, as far as I know. He says in the text of p. 311 (and also in p. 323), "they were without fault before God," and then in the foot-note gives αμωμοι ενωπιον του Θεου. He adds, "Compare my observation on the words ενωπιον του θηριου, said in Apoc. xiii. of the lambskin-covered beast's responsibility to the beast antichrist as his supervisor, p. 206-208 supra. The words within brackets are implied if not expressed." Now, while I do not question that politically the second beast subserves the first, I demur to the proof drawn from this phrase. Thus, Rev. 1:4 — the first occurrence of ἐνώπιον in the book — is adverse. Subordination is not the idea. As little does the next occurrence, Rev. 4:14, bear him out: indeed it refutes the inference. Balaam taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel — certainly not under their cognizance and judgment. Compare also Rev. 3:8-9; Rev. 4:6; Rev. 12:4, 10. Nay, in Revelation 13, the verse which follows the one on which Mr. E. dwells is in my judgment a sufficient answer. For while verse 12, if justly so interpreted, would suit the papal supremacy, how square it with verse 13? For there we have the signs or miracles wrought ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀνθρώπων, before men. If Mr. E.'s theory of what is "presignified by this little word" in verse 12 be applied to verse 13, it would teach the Protestant principle of private judgment, quite as much as the other justifies "Coram Petro." The truth is that the view has no foundation.
See Numbers. There we perceive Israel in a state of great disorder and failure, every form of unbelief and unfaithfulness in their journeying. But the moment an enemy comes forward, and comes to curse the people of God — that same Israel which had tempted and provoked Him ten times and more, what does He say then? Why, that He has not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither has He seen perverseness in Israel! "Jehovah his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them." In the very persons with whom He had found fault so often, when speaking to themselves, He can see none now. Let Satan and the world take in hand to damage His people, and all His heart is in movement on their behalf.
As this verse stands now in the common text, with the words "before the throne of God" added to it, we could only understand it as being true in Christ; but here the sense requires, if I mistake not, that it be practical conduct. God looks at them as undefiled and truthful, because they have been kept by grace from all the idols of Babylon and the delusive power of the beast; and thus they are blameless. I only notice this to show that many of these little changes add to the great sum of Christian truth. Every blot or error which creeps into the word of God will be found to impair its accuracy and to detract from its perfect beauty.
The second thing that we note in the chapter is an angel flying in the midst of heaven, having everlasting glad tidings to preach unto them that dwell [or, literally, that sit] on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people. I am aware that some have applied this to the great spread of evangelical missions to the heathen in these last days. But is it the way to understand prophecy — ever striving to find some present accomplishment of it? We must look at the context as a whole. If no such thing be admitted as a new group of suffering Jews, connected with Christ in the hope of the kingdom in Israel, it is in vain to look for the angel with the everlasting gospel in the missionary efforts of the last half century. Nor would the message itself in any way suit the present purposes of God. The ground on which the angel appeals to them is that the hour of God's judgment is come. Is this the case now? Evidently not. Is not the day of grace in full contrast with the hour of judgment? It is still true that "now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." As yet the door is open. It is forcing scripture to say "the hour of his judgment is come." But when the time for the accomplishment of this arrives, it will be the sure warning of the Lord for men. For then the closing judgments are about to be executed, and the outpouring of God's wrath is just at hand. Now you cannot reconcile all this with the day of blessing and grace, as if they could both run on together. And yet there are those who say we are in the midst of the vials! But this (where it is understood not partially, but in full and finally) indicates the almost total eclipse which befalls the truth in the minds of men, when they can suppose that the day of God's grace and the hour of His judgment are the same thing, or can be at the same time.
And when we proceed a little closely to examine the message itself, we find that it has altogether another sound from the glad tidings which God is proclaiming now. Does it call souls everywhere to repent, because God has raised up a man from the dead by whom He will judge the world in righteousness? (Acts 17:31.) Thus Paul preached in his day; and thus it is right to preach now a Christ dead, risen, and coming again to judge the world. It speaks of the hour of divine judgment, but there is not a word about a risen man — nothing about a Saviour or His redemption. "Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters" (verse 7). Now, I ask, is this the kind of message that would suit to go about the country with? Telling persons to worship God that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and fountains of waters? Everlastingly true as it is, is it the special message now? God forbid that the creation-glory of God should be denied! It is exceedingly important; but its proper application is when God has finished the work, now in hand, of saving and calling out the church (Christ's body) for heavenly glory. When Satan has accomplished his great purpose of making men not only reject the true God when He came as man, but worship a man as God on earth, what will not be the urgent need and value of that message then? It will be the contradiction given to everything the beast and the dragon conspire to bring in. When all this iniquitous false worship is going on, it will require positive faith in the one living and true God not to give way and fall under the power of the delusion. For Satan will have made it to be at the peril of a man's life and subsistence not to yield.
And so here is this message sent: "Fear God, and give glory to him." All the world had sunk in idolatry, worshipping the beast and falling down before him. Satan could not prevail on the Son of God to fall down and worship him; but he will have the beast as his tool and all the world is drawn after him. "Worship him that made heaven and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters." These are the claims of God to supreme worship at the time when "the earth" will be completely carried away by the anti-christian delusion.
But persons may ask, "Why is it called everlasting glad tidings or gospel?" Perhaps because it is always true. It has been so from the beginning, and up to the close it must be unchanged. "Fear God, and give glory to him." The peculiar ground on which it is put here ("for the hour of his judgment is come") could not always apply. But still the word, "Fear God … worship him that made heaven and earth" (that is, the glory of God proved or witnessed in creation), is of course always a standing, fundamental truth. But it will be emphatically regarded and brought out when Satan has gained over the world to deny the true God, and to worship a creature instead of the Creator.
The seventh verse is pretty plain; but I add a few words more with regard to the term "gospel." It is used in scripture with much more latitude than men are now accustomed to. The glad tidings to Israel in the wilderness held out that they should inherit the land of promise. It was glad tidings to Abraham that in him should all nations be blessed. (Gal. 3:8.) The glad tidings in the time of John the Baptist, and preached by him, meant in substance that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. So also the Lord Himself preached and His disciples during His ministry on earth. But the people would not have Him; and the consequence was that, though the kingdom was set up, it was so in a way that differed emphatically from what the people expected who looked for it. It was set up in the person of the rejected King in heaven, till He comes again in power, when it will be established manifestly over the earth. Thus we have different messages, different glad tidings, according to the various subjects or hopes that God was presenting at different times. But the everlasting gospel necessarily was before Abraham, or any other of these special glad tidings. It has always been, and must be, that God is the only worthy object of worship. "There is none good but one — God." And when the blessed day does dawn — when the King comes in His glory — when the kingdom prepared before the foundation of the world will be enjoyed — when God will have His blessed ones around Him from the north and south, from the east and from the west (not only the risen ones, but also those in their natural bodies who will be spared and be blessed on the earth, at the same time that the risen saints will enjoy heavenly glory under the headship of the only One who can concentrate all in blessing), what will be the due and needed message previously? Why this: "Fear God, and give glory to him." Evidently then it is called with perfect reason, "the everlasting gospel." You will observe that it is sent "to them that dwell on the earth," as well as "to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people;" thus keeping up the distinction that we have noticed before. They will both hear the testimony; but if those "who dwell on the earth" will not receive it, through the mercy of God the nations, kindreds, tongues, and people will in part receive it. (Compare Psalm 96 and Matt. 24:14 with the results in Matt. 25:31-46.)
After this comes another message — the fall of Babylon. I do not mean to dwell on it just now, as we shall find a great deal about that city in other chapters of this book: for Babylon was so important as to require a special notice to itself. But as it was evidently the active source of corruption, intoxicating men and drawing them away from the living God, so now He sends this, the death-knell of Babylon. The object here, probably, was to give its place in the order of God's dealings at the close of the dispensation, its relation to what went before and to what follows after (verse 8).
In the next place, we have the solemn warning to those who worshipped the beast and received his mark, the sure and everlasting torment of all who were thus carried away by him. There are many who apply these prophecies about Babylon and the beast in an exclusive way to Rome; but while the seven-hilled city has many of the principles of Babylon and the beast, yet it is impossible to find their complete and united fulfilment in Popery as it now is or has been. Besides, the beast and Babylon are not the same thing; for the beast destroys Babylon. And will Rome destroy itself? Certainly, the elements of Babylon are to be found there; but if the matter be looked at more closely, all cannot be found in Rome. For my own part, I believe that Rome, more than any other system, already is in a very true moral sense Babylon, and that it will yet contain and manifest all the elements of that vile corruptress. But for this very reason it cannot be the beast; for the beast it is which destroys Babylon, and after that the beast, falling into its own worst and open rebellion against God, perishes. The worst state of the beast is after Babylon has been destroyed; for then it exalts itself to heaven, only to be cast down to hell; but we shall have the fall of both fully by and by. "Here is the patience of the saints" (verses 9-12).
The fifth division is the word touching the saints that die in the Lord. "And I heard a voice from heaven saying, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow with them" (verse 13). It does not mean those who die throughout the present dispensation. When Christian people die now, it is blessed; but here the Spirit speaks of a future class, all of whom will die. You must take these things connected together as a whole — not a little bit that suits present circumstances, leaving out the rest which does not. What is the real meaning of the verse? What is God's mind? It is the saints who die in that day. Many will be killed: the blood of the saints will flow. The everlasting glad tidings had been announced; the hour of judgment was come, as the angel proclaimed; so that it might seem a dreadful thing for persons to be killed just when God is going to introduce His kingdom. But, on the contrary, the voice says, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth." Do not be alarmed by it. They will only get a better kind of glory. What will be the portion of those that die in the Lord then? They will reign with Christ and His heavenly saints. Revelation 20 proves that those who die under the persecutions of the beast will be raised again to join the heavenly saints that will have been taken away before. "Blessed are the dead," etc., cannot in strictness apply to the church, because all belonging to the church will not die. Some will be alive and remaining at the coming of the Lord, who are to be changed without passing through death; whereas these are persons who all die, as a class. It refers exclusively to those who die in the Lord at that time; and shows that, instead of losing their place in the kingdom of Christ, they will gain an advanced position of blessing. Their company also is complete, and their full blessedness just coming without further waiting — blessed from henceforth (verse 13).
The spirit of it may be applied now; but the intention of the Holy Ghost seems to have been the comfort of persons who will die before the beast is judged and the heavenly glory appears. It might be thought that they had lost something; but it is not so. The voice from heaven says, "Write, Blessed henceforth the dead that die in the Lord: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them." The Holy Ghost adds His "Yea" of sweet sympathy, true to the saints in joy and in sorrow, groaning with their infirmities, and rejoicing with their speedy triumph and reward.
Then follow the two closing scenes of this chapter. The first is the vision of one like the Son of man* sitting on a white cloud, "having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle." It is a vision grounded upon the idea of a harvest: that is, it is a separating judgment (verses 14-16). There is that which must be cast away, and that which will be gathered in. Perhaps with this we may compare what is said in the Gospels — "one shall be taken and the other left; so shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed." (Luke 17.) In the next judgment, we have a different character of dealing. It is the vintage of the earth, not its harvest. There is no good, and therefore no separation here. In the harvest there was; but when you come to the vintage, a more serious state is found. It is not the genuine vine, but the "vine of the earth." The Lord Jesus is the only true vine: and if we are fruit-bearing branches, it must be by abiding in Him. But here it is "the vine of the earth." And what does the Lord do with this vine of the earth and its clusters? There is nothing but unmixed judgment — no mercy whatever to mitigate it. The fruit is gathered and cast into the great winepress of the wrath of God. Then follows the image of unsparing judgment. "The winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs."† It is an awful figure of carnage — blood flowing in a deep stream for about 200 miles. This is not to be taken in a mere literal way; but the great idea which God presents is that of a judgment where there is nothing but wrath to the very uttermost upon the apostates. Who ever heard of such a thing in any history of human events? It is entirely beyond all that man could execute. When the reality comes, it will be still more terrible than the figure, which has passed as a prophetic picture before the eye of the prophet (verses 17-20). The bloodshed might be of religious apostates from all parts of Christendom; but it appears to be especially Jewish, as the scene is the land. The winepress was trodden without the city — i.e., I suppose, Jerusalem. (Compare Joel 3.)
*Mr. Jenour revives a doubt as to "the Son of man," and suggests an application, symbolically, to the Jews then to be converted, and the great evangelists of that day! just as Vitringa long ago applied it to those princes, etc., whom God employed at the Reformation in executing his dealings in providence! But there is no force in the objection that St. John would hardly have said of Christ "one like to the Son of man." For it is exactly what he does say in Revelation 1, where beyond controversy our Lord alone can be meant. Likeness to a character, rather than to a person, is meant; and hence the phrase is anarthrous, as in Dan. 7:13.
†Jerome remarked the coincidence of this with the length of Palestine, and Fuller, Faber, etc., apply it literally to that land, as the great future Aceldama. Mede, on the other hand (as we are told in the Horae Apoc.), suggests the fact of a similar length in the States of the Church from Rome to Verona.
In Isa. 63 we have the Lord treading the winepress, but it appears to be a more distant scene. There He is coming from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah. Here it is "without the city," and vengeance on those who had been religiously guilty in connection with it. They had heard of mercy, but it had been despised; and now the judgment is come, and for them there is nothing else. The mercy had been only abused; and what is there that God so feels and judges?
In this chapter, then, we have the full outline of the dealings of God in the latter-day crisis. There are seven divisions of it. First, there is the full remnant of godly Jews associated with the Lamb on mount Sion, in sympathy with His sufferings and waiting for the kingdom. Secondly, a testimony to the Gentile nations scattered all over the world as well as to those seated on the prophetic earth. Thirdly, the fall of Babylon. Fourthly, the fearful doom, both in this world and in the next, of such as should worship the beast and his image, or receive the mark of his name. Fifthly, the blessedness from that time of those that die in the Lord. Sixthly, the discriminating process of the harvest. And seventhly, the awful infliction of vengeance on religious apostacy; the first, at least, of these two last acts of judgment being executed by the Son of man, which necessarily supposes the very close of the age: the wrath, not of God only, but of the Lamb.
Thus the sevenfold series appears in this sketch of the final ways of God, whether of mercy or of judgment. It is thoroughly in accordance with the Revelation. We have had seven seals, seven trumpets, as there are also seven vials. Here too, though not formally numbered, we have the seven dealings of God that make up a complete account; but the details, as they are given afterwards, may come before us another time. Although it is not about us, yet what a mercy it is to feel that we do not always require to think about ourselves when reading the Bible! Many suppose it a very spiritual thing to be always asking, What is there for me? But we ought to desire all the blessing that God can give us, and not merely a little Zoar. "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it," saith Jehovah. If I desire to have my cup running over, and thus to be strengthened in serving Him, I shall want to know all that God can tell me about Christ. And is it not something, and good for me, to know that Christ is to have His complete remnant, not merely when glory comes, but before it comes, associated in their measure with Him in suffering — like David when he came to mount Zion? Then who were they that shared his honours? Those who had been the companions of his rejection. So here with these 144,000. They will not have the same heavenly glory that is reserved for the church of the first-born; for either we have the very best blessings now, or none. All Christians stand now in the most glorious privileges which it is possible for children of God to enjoy. Whatever its pretensions, it is a time when Christ is thoroughly rejected by the world. God desires that we should find treasure enough in Christ to despise the world — to put its bribes under our feet. The hard thing is to take the place of the rejection of Christ, and to be happy in keeping it.
And now that we have viewed this chapter as the closing scene of the earth, the end of the age, more particularly God's working therein with reference to the evil of that day, it may be well to glance briefly at the historical application. None could learn the new song, it is allowed, but the 144,000 — none but those converted and illuminated by the Spirit of God, a company elected out of the Protestant nations (as before out of the Christianized nations under Constantine); and yet with singular inconsistency the voice of the waters and great thunders implied "the uniting of both nations and princes in the song." (Horae Apocalypticae, vol. iii. pp. 288, 289.) Were the Protestant nations ever the election of grace? Mr. Jenour, not unreasonably dissatisfied with the mere repetition of a similar class in Rev. 7 and 14, tries to vary the tune, and suggests that those in the former chapter are a Jewish elect remnant, these in our chapter a Gentile one.* Now, I would press one question upon those inclined to either of the views mentioned: How could a Christian election (either under Constantine or at the Reformation, whether an election out of Jews or Gentiles) be styled firstfruits to God and to the Lamb? If the church, strictly so called, will be then completed, nothing is more intelligible; but on the scheme which regards the testimony and the body formed thereby as the same continuously, a reasonable explanation does not appear. If it be a special gathering out of Judah, associated with a suffering Messiah, and anticipating the kingdom, what clearer? Hence, there is no room for interpolating the declension of the eighteenth century into the prophecy — no place for such additions to the words of this book as that "the voice of the 144,000 waxed fainter and feebler, and the tokens of their presence more obscure in all the continental Protestant countries and churches," while the light of England burned brighter!
*Dr. M'Causland (Latter Days of Jerusalem and Rome, pp. 154-160, 398-400), falls into a singular cycle of errors: first, that the same company are intended in Rev. 7, 14; secondly, that they are the faithful Jews before Christ's first advent; thirdly, that the second company in chapter 7 (verses 9-14) are in no way Gentile, but a yet future class of the redeemed of Israel to be taken out of the nations, etc., whither they are now dispersed; fourthly, that these in Revelation 14 have the name of the Father on their foreheads — not the name of Christ, whereas the true text (represented by the uncials, ℵ A B C, upwards of forty cursives, nearly all the ancient versions with the Greek and Latin fathers) expressly says "his [the Lamb's] name and his Father's name." Besides, the insertion of ὡς, "as it were," before "the new song," is by no means certain. It is omitted by the Vatican and Porphyrian uncials, with nearly forty cursives, most versions, Origen, Methodius, Arethas, etc.
Of the second division — the angel with everlasting glad tidings — enough has been said already to show why one cannot allow anything save a general reference either to the era of the Reformers, or to that of recent missionary societies. And I take this opportunity of stating my conviction that the Reformation (blessed as it was in breaking the dominion of Popery, in spreading the Bible and Bible-reading far and wide, and in asserting strongly, if not clearly, justification by faith) did not bring out the light of God even as to regeneration, and maintained substantially the same clerical system as before. That is, reformed doctrine and polity fail utterly, as a confession of the truth of the Holy Ghost's operations, whether in quickening souls or yet more in His sovereign action in the Christian assembly. Justification, as then understood, did not necessarily suppose perception of God's mind as to the operations of the Spirit. It is to me clear and certain that the reformed national bodies have never been free from confusion and even error on these subjects, which are of capital moment both to individuals and to the church.
One might have expected that, if the proclamation of Babylon's fall (verse 8) had been fulfilled, those who so think would have tried to make out some show of facts to account for its appearance here, after the epoch of evangelic missions. It may be alleged that it is something yet future. But such does not appear to be Mr. E.'s opinion, because he joins on the message of this angel, with hardly a shred of comment, to that of the angel evangelist; and he distinctly dwells on the third flying angel as yet unfulfilled. May we not then press the query: What has taken place at all adequately answering to the second angel's mission?
As to the third flying angel, Mr. E. thinks its prefiguration requires, among other things, a sufficiently general agreement among Christ's faithful Protestant servants, as to what is meant both by the beast and the beast's image, to give weight to the judgment denounced against their worshippers. That is, if I understand him, there ought to be a general acquiescence in the system of the Horae Apocalypticae, an abandonment of all reference to the secular Roman empire, and an adoption of the discovery that the beast's image means the general councils of Papal Christendom, especially of Trent. I am assured that the impression on the mind of most intelligent Christians is growingly opposed to such theories, and the absoluteness of the warning as to any individual who worships the beast, etc., cannot (save by a violence which convinces no dispassionate person) be said to be fulfilled in Popery, abominable as the system is. In the crisis of antichrist it will be literally true. (Compare 2 Thess. 2:10-12.)
The harvest and the vintage call for no especial remark, as there is no question of their futurity, and Christ is admitted to be viewed therein as the initiator and completer of these final judgments. Why they should not indicate the time of His great predicted second advent does not clearly appear (H. A., vol. iv. p. 11): in reality there is no ground to doubt it, as far as I see. The fact of a distinct subsequent vision of the conflict with the beast does not hinder this. They may all well be various presentations of judgment when He comes in the clouds of heaven. The error is the reducing as much as possible to events in providence.
We are now come to a new division of the book. The last three chapters (12, 13, 14.) formed a most important portion to themselves; they gave the whole history of the closing dealings of God, and of the last plans of Satan, as far as the present dispensation is concerned. And not only that, but before either Satan's ways or God's dealings were brought out, the hidden source of both was entered into. We saw in Revelation 12 the victorious man child born, and the dragon and his angels cast down from heaven. Thus we have two great parties in the scene with their chiefs opposed face to face. Whatever might have been the instruments of Satan's power here below, seen in Revelation 13, and whatever the ways of God in His grace or in His judgments in Revelation 14, all flowed down from that man child, the object of Satan's fear and hatred. Then we come to a new subject. There was a great wonder or sign spoken of in Revelation 15:1. Here it is said, "And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God." We are resuming once more the course of historical events. Under the last trumpet you may remember the word was, "The nations were wroth, and thy wrath is come." Now I think it must naturally strike any one that here God's wrath is come, and the nations not merely angry but blaspheming to the last degree. So far each fresh stroke of God, instead of humbling man, only drew out this intensity of enmity against the Lord. The seventh trumpet brought us up to the close in a general way; and here we have some of the details, but not all. There were two parties described under the vials that we have more particularly afterwards. Revelation 17 refers to Babylon and the beast in their mutual relations. In Revelation 18 we have the destruction of Babylon, and in Revelation 19 the judgment of the beast.
There is another remark also that I must make. Revelation 14 gives us these events all together. We had there what may be called the religious actings of God — His dealing with man on the earth, as accountable for the use or abuse of revealed light, and responsible to own and worship God alone. These vials take up rather the outward civil history or secular condition of man, though the same thing may, in certain cases, have both a religious bearing and a secular one. For instance, look at Babylon: she is evidently the great corrupt and corrupting power in religion; but this does not hinder Babylon from meddling largely in the things of the world. And, in fact, this is one of the evils which form Babylon — the bringing in the spirit of the world even into spiritual questions, and thus producing confusion, hateful to God and most seductive to men. Hence we get Babylon in Revelation 14 as well as in Revelation 16. Chapter 14 gives us a summary of God's dealings at the end of the age in respect of religious matters, whether bright or dark, grace, testimony, and judgment. It thus helps us a good deal as to putting the closing events in the order in which they come to pass. For instance, the fall of Babylon is the third link brought before us in the chain of chapter 14. First, we see the complete remnant of godly suffering Jews — a holy remnant, associated by grace with the Lamb on mount Zion. Then follows the testimony of everlasting glad tidings to the earth and all nations. And thirdly, there is the fall of Babylon. On the other hand, in the vials the fall of Babylon is the last of the seven. From this we gather that the judgments set forth by the preceding six vials must be before the fall of Babylon. That is, the first six vials may be successively accomplished while the Jewish remnant is being formed, and the everlasting gospel is going out to the Gentiles. The last vial involves the fall of Babylon, which answers to and is the third link in the chain of events given us in chapter 14. This is of importance in order to hinder confusion. The warning as to the worship of the beast, the pronounced blessedness of those who died in the Lord, the harvest, and the vintage of the earth, are events clearly all subsequent to Babylon's fall.
Having had then the general and orderly view of God's ways both in mercy and judgment, now we learn in Revelation 16 a part of these ways, the details of some of which are connected with Revelation 14:8, and perhaps simultaneous with what precedes that verse. It must not be supposed, therefore, that the vials take place after chapter 14; the earlier ones might be poured out while the remnant there spoken of is being formed, and the testimony going on. Or they might occur rapidly after these, and before the fall of Babylon; but certainly the last vial includes the fall of Babylon; and its fall is as clearly before the very solemn events which follow that announcement in the latter part of chapter 14.
But now let us look a little at the scene introductory to the vials. "I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire." This is a type borrowed, though with changes, from the temple.* The tabernacle had the laver, the temple its molten sea — a larger vessel, but of a similar nature in which the priests used to wash their feet and hands when they went in to do the service of the Lord. In this case it is a sea of glass, and therefore not used for purification. It was not a sea of water, but was solid. Its being of glass indicates a state of firm and settled purity. It was not that which was used to cleanse, but the image of purity that nothing can defile. These saints are no longer in the circumstances where they have need of cleansing through the washing of water by the word. That was over. Now it was "a sea of glass mingled with fire;" showing plainly through what circumstances those connected with that sea had passed. They had experienced fiery tribulation, they had glorified God in the fires. This plainly does not refer to the church. "In the world ye shall have tribulation" does apply to us. But this refers to special tribulation — "the tribulation" of which scripture frequently speaks. "I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image" (clearly, then, they are contemporaries of the beast), "and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God." Thus what is referred to here is not washing in the sea, but standing on it. Their earthly circumstances characterize them; but the scene of conflict is now past. The Spirit of God anticipates all which marks those who had been troubled by the beast, but who are viewed as victorious over him. They were persons who had been cleansed already; they had done with the present scene, and were now out of it all. They were standing on the sea of glass. Not only this, but they had "harps of God." That is, they are occupied with divine joy and praise, the contrast of all they had passed through.
*Simple as this may appear, the force of the sea of glass has been, in my judgment, entirely misunderstood both here and in Rev. 4 by Mr. Elliott an others. Thus, in the Horae Apoc., i. pp. 84, 85, the singular error of Vitringa is adopted, which confounds it with the firmament like the terrible crystal of Ezekiel; and in a note it is objected to the true reference, (1) That John is describing what was in the inner sanctuary, not in the court without; (2) That it is represented as of glass, not brazen; and (3) That there is no allusion to the laver in any of the Apocalyptic visions. The reply is obvious. 1. The Spirit of God distinctly applies the position of souls under the altar in Rev. 6 to the souls of martyrs in heaven. Now, the altar and the laver were equally in the court. Compare also Rev. 8 where both altars are found in the same heavenly scene, in contradistinction to the earth. 2. The vessel is not denied to he made of glass, but the meaning is that the sea, or what answered to it, was of glass, not water. 3. The last is not a reason, but an assumption of the very question. I should be disposed to put the converse, and to ask, whether it would not be strange in the midst of temple — scenery so marked to have nothing answering to the molten sea. If the "sea" here be the counterpart of the "sea" in Kings and Chronicles, then the laver is alluded to in these visions. Next, it is agreed (H. A., iii. pp. 468, 469) that, were the "sea" in Rev. 15 a "re-mention" of that in Rev. 4, the definite article ought to have been prefixed; nay, that even on its first mention it was entitled to the article because of its notoriety. Here again the answer is manifest. The seven golden lamp-stands of Rev. 1 nobody doubts to be an allusion to the well-known candlestick of the Jewish sanctuary, and yet there is no article on their first occurrence. If the reason of its omission here, as distinguished from the altars and the ark, is due to the striking difference between them (the Jewish one being single and seven-branched, the Apocalyptic consisting of seven separate lamps), the same remark applies to our matter; for water was the point in the Jewish temple-sea, glass is as express in the Apocalyptic, because the purifying of those in relation with it was complete. So again, it is no wonder that in Rev. 15 the article is not prefixed, seeing that another change appears there. It is for the first time a sea "mingled with fire", — emblematic of the excessively severe trial through which the victors had passed. The analogy of Apocalyptic usage also confirms this; for the "beast" is anarthrous in Rev. 13:1, 17:3, though, as I agree with Mr. E., it is the same power already mentioned in Rev. 11:7.
And what is offered in lieu of the temple-sea? The burning lava of a volcano, or overflow of French revolutionary fury inundating the anti-Christian territory of continental Europe; and, naturally, the harpers represent the triumphs of living revived Protestantism in insular England under Wilberforce now, as formerly there had been for others under Augustine and Luther! As a sea of lava or even of water would be an incongruous place whereon to stand, one cannot be surprised that "on the sea" has been changed into "by," which I admit the preposition will bear. On my view, however, its more ordinary meaning holds good. Mr. E. lays stress on ἐκ τοῦ θ. κ. τ. λ. as implying not only conquest over, but separation from, the party conquered. Can it be because his supposed harpers were not in any way within the fiery scene of tribulation? I should rather infer that they had been in the furnace, but were come victors out of all. Again, the reasoning on the present participle is unsound (H. A., iii. pp. 465-467), for nothing is more common when accompanied by the article than its abstract use. Thus, to take the first which presents itself, in Matt. 2:20, οἱ ζητοῦντες certainly does not imply that they were still in the field. Compare also Rev. 7:14, said of a multitude which is anticipatively viewed as already in the rest of God. It is, I believe, just the same in ch. 15
I would just observe, though it be a slight circumstance, that there is a short clause here which should be left out. It is said in verse 2, "Them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name." But the clause "and over his mark" has no business here whatever. The same thing occurs in Revelation 13:17: "That no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." Now the truth is that the little word "or" inserted there before the clause "the name of the beast" ought to disappear. The difference in the sense is that "the mark" might be either the name of the beast or the number of his name; not some third thing distinct from these two, as the ordinary text might suggest. There were two ways in which the beast marked his followers; one was by his name, and the other by the number of his name: but there would be no sense in saying, "the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." The number was his mark, though not the only one; there was the name besides — the one, I suppose, being closer and more appropriate than the other. Here, then, were those (Rev. 15) who had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over the number of his name. Even in the English Bible the word "and over the number" is printed in italics, and only adds to the confusion with the words "over his mark." I refer to it to show that wherever there is even such a little word as "or" introduced by man into the scripture, the sense is impaired. In the language which the Spirit uses, it is but a letter that makes the difference; but you cannot even put a letter into the word of God without so far injuring its beauty and perfectness. Through the mercy of God, His children may get little harm through such blemishes; but it is in part because they do not think enough about it. If they were to work a system out of them, they might fall into some serious mistake in not a few cases. But happily (this is the way God mercifully shields them) they do not really receive the false doctrine; they do not know what it means, and therefore leave it. But evidently God is little honoured where persons merely escape error because they do not understand it. It is the mercy of God thus to preserve His people from evil; but it is His overruling hand rather than the intelligent guidance of the Spirit. The book of Revelation has suffered more than any other from the carelessness of man; and as we are looking into its contents, and it seems desirable for God's children to have clear thoughts about His word, I thought it better to notice it, however small a matter it may appear. I remember having myself been perplexed to make out the difference between the mark of the beast and its name and its number. But having examined the question more closely, I found that there was really nothing to decide about. A little fox had slipped in and spoiled the vine. In short, the mark was not something different from the name or its number, but was the general term for both — the name expressing probably a more intimate and entire subjection to the beast than the number of his name.
Those who had won the victory over the beast were not his creatures or slaves; far from it — they were the servants of God. Here they were seen standing in conscious victory, outside all the scene of their conflicts, having the harps of God. And they sing: it is intelligent praise. "They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb." There is a double character in their praise, quite different from the song of the elders. It is very blessed, but not the same thing. The strain of the elders was far deeper. These saints are not here spoken of as priests of God, much less the heads of heavenly priesthood; nor have they the emblems of royal dignity. They sing the song of Moses. They were true saints, but with an undoubtedly Jewish character. They sing the song of the Lamb too. If they did not know the Saviour, they would not be saints at all. But withal they sing the song of Moses. They will not stand exactly in the Christian position that we now enjoy. They will be in circumstances of trial, when the church has passed out of the scene into heaven. But still the Lord will have a company of saints then who will suffer for Him even unto death; for the beast has power to slay — and it may be thus that, by their own blood as well as by the blood of the Lamb,* they gain the victory over him.
*Of course, the Lamb's blood alone avails for sin with God.
Here they are seen at rest, like Israel of old, on the triumphant side of the Red Sea, to which there seems an allusion; as the plagues of the next chapter clearly refer to those that fell upon the land of Egypt. "They sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, O Lord God the Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of the nations" (verse 3). Now if we look at Psalm 103:7, we find that the Holy Ghost brings into prominence these two things — the ways of Jehovah and His acts. "He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel." The distinction is between the deep hidden ways of the Lord which Moses knew, and the public acts which were conspicuous before all Israel. Here these saints take up, not His ways first, but His displayed works. "Great and marvellous are thy works, O Lord God the Almighty." And then they rise to celebrate His ways. "Just and true are thy ways, thou King of the nations" — I must say so, for King of saints is a thing unknown in any part of the Bible. But King of nations, given in the margin, is most true. It is a reference to Jeremiah 10: "Thou art great (verse 6), and thy name is great in might. Who would not fear thee, O King of nations?"
Just to show the general truth, I would observe that, while Christ is King, yea King of kings and Lord of lords, and while it is our joy to acknowledge it (for Christians indeed are the only persons now who rightly know the Lord Jesus to be King), yet it is remarkable how the Holy Ghost avoids calling Him King in relation to the church. I am aware that well-known hymns may speak of Him as "Our Prophet, Priest, and King." Scripture often calls Him King, but never in that relation to us.* Of course, the object of God's word is not to weaken our subjection to Christ. Whatever weakens that comes not from the Spirit, but from Satan. But is it not plain, that the relation of a king and people is not so close and binding, neither is it so full and all-embracing in its authority, nor does it involve such elements of affection, as the relationship of Bridegroom or of the Head? And this is the way in which scripture views the church. There is the deepest and most constant subjection, but it is that of members to their Head, of the bride to the Bridegroom. Thus is the church subject to Christ. It is true that we are translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son, but in what capacity? He has made us kings in it. So we are represented as singing in the first chapter of this very prophecy, "Unto him that loveth us, and hath washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father."
* Mr. Elliott hesitatingly inclines to "King of ages" in his text (H. A., iii. p. 473) up to the last edition; but in his note, supported by ℵ C and a Paris cursive, Coislin 202, with the Vulgate and other versions, he ventured the opinion that the (undoubtedly false) vulgar reading ἁγίων seems "best of all to suit the context." To me this reluctance to bow to the best reading ἐθνῶν (supported by the Alex., Porph. and Vat. uncials, forty-five cursives, the AEthiopic, Arabic of the Polyglotts, Coptic, not to speak of the correction in the Sinai MS., Slav. MSS., Greek and some Latin fathers) is not happy. I am glad however to see that he omits this, and seems content with the better authorities in his fifth edition. Page 461 by a misprint gives C as well as A for εθνων: it should be B.
While it is perfectly certain, then, that we are in the kingdom, yet are we there not as subjects, though assuredly subject. We joyfully own Christ as our Lord, whose grace has made us kings with him, and not as a mere people at a distance under Him. This in no way lessens our responsibility to obey Him, any more than it takes from His glory. It puts us in the place of showing obedience on a firmer ground and from higher motives; it is not the weakness of flesh under law, but the heart purified by faith and strengthened by grace. He fills us with a sense of the glory, of which we are joint-heirs with Himself. He raises us in hope to the throne; but the effect is that, even in heaven, we shall fall down and cast our crowns before Him. He loves that our obedience should take as it were the form of worship. So we see how the Lord preserves these two things intact. On the one hand, He delights that we should look up and know that the Lord Jesus is ever immeasurably above us: but then, on the other hand, Christ has set us now in earnest of the Spirit, as by and by in possession, on thrones, that He may show that it is not merely as servants, nor as a people that we are subject, but as those whom His perfect and divine love has associated with Himself; for we are one with Him. He will put us on thrones around Him — on His own throne; but even then subjection to Christ can never disappear. Never will it be anything else, whether in the kingdom or in the eternal state. Wherever you look, never can the church so far forget what she owes her Lord and Bridegroom as to wish it otherwise. It were to abuse His grace to take from His glory; and the church must and ought to resent that. If the elders at the sight only of His taking the book fall down before the Lamb and worship, much more should the thought of any indignity offered to Him call forth the strongest feelings of indignation and horror. The church may be and is loved of Christ; but in anywise to take equal ground with Him were to display that spirit of antichrist, "whereof we have heard that it shall come, and even now already is it in the world."
"Just and true are thy ways, thou King of nations." If I apprehend aright, the reason why "nations" are introduced here is that these vials were about to be poured out very particularly upon the Gentiles. Under the trumpets, and in Revelation 12-14, we had the Jews, or at least the Jewish remnant, in an especial way the object of covenant mercy. The very phrase (Rev. 11), "the ark of the covenant," connects itself with that nation; for the covenant was made with them. Therefore we saw too that the woman in the next chapter (Rev. 12) represented Israel. Then we had the Remnant of godly Jews. (Rev. 14) But now these saints are celebrating the righteous ways of God with the Gentiles, or nations. He is King of nations — not merely of the Jews. Jewish relationships appear in both, but they are distinct visions, opened each by a very different sign.
"Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments were made manifest." The word used for "holy" here is an unusual one. It is the same that is used where scripture speaks of the mercies of David, and its Hebrew counterpart is frequently found in the Psalms. For there are two words in both languages to express holiness. There is the common word for "holy," which, for instance, occurs in Rev. 4 "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty." It always implies separation from evil — absolute separation. The holiness spoken of here implies mercy, which is quite another thought. We are about to hear of the vials, and the first thought would be, "how dreadful!" God's wrath is going to be fulfilled. But who and what is the God whose wrath is about to be consummated? He whose holiness is full of mercy. "Thou only art holy." It is the holiness of mercy. "For all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments were made manifest." They look through the judgments, and they see the end always is that "the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy." So that, though this storm of judgment may be about to fall, they look to the end from the beginning, and they celebrate accordingly the holiness of the One who in judgment remembers mercy. No doubt there must be wrath, and God must complete it; because the first outpouring of it will only make men more hardened. But let it be observed, it is not a question of Christ; there is no such thing as the wrath of the Lamb here, not even in men's minds; it is the wrath of God. In Revelation 14 He who reaps the harvest is the Son of man. But here God acts according to His own part, before Christ comes from heaven to execute wrath. This indicates that the vials end before the final judgments of chapter 14 commence, because the close of the chapter shows us the Son of man coming Himself to execute judgment.
And therefore they can say as they look up, "Who shall not fear thee, O Lord? … for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments were made manifest" (verse 4). Another important truth; for, as we are told in Isaiah 26, as long as God deals in mercy, what does man? He takes advantage of it, and refuses to "learn righteousness." But the time comes when the Lord will lift up His arm in judgment; and what then? "When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." So here, "All nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments were made manifest." Such would be the ultimate result.
The prophet again looks, "And the temple* of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened" (verse 5). Mark the difference. In Revelation 11:19 (which introduces the scene of Revelation 12-14 before the vials) the temple was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant seen; but no ark appears now. There it was the fit pledge of the security of God's faithfulness — of His unchanging purposes towards His people Israel. But here His enemies are in question rather than His people; and there is nothing but the tabernacle of the testimony, which is inaugurated as it were in judgments on the men of the earth. It is opened for wrath as yet, not for gospel triumphs. It is God's testimony judicially to the condition of man. Man is guilty: what then could result? "The seven angels came out of the temple." And terrible to say, they come out of that in which no ark was now seen. And what would be, what is, the effect? Nothing but wrath — the more awful because it flows from the sanctuary. They "came out of the temple, having the seven plagues." This was all that God could do for man now. "Clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles. And one of the four living creatures" — the great presiding executors of the providential judgments of God — "gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials." The word means bowls or cups, and is taken from the vessels used for pouring out drink-offerings, etc., before the Lord. It is not drink-offerings now, but wrath coming down from God — "seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no one was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled." Thus, neither present worship of God nor intercession was any longer possible. It was vain for any one to attempt entering there: the smoke of the fire of God's righteous anger filled the temple, the smoke proving the fire that was there. Thus there was no possibility for any one, not even for a priest, to enter. None could draw near now: wrath, the smoke of judgment, filled it. Just as at Sinai, where smoke is represented as going up from the mountain as the smoke of a furnace; and as in Psalm 18, "There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured." So now there is the image of God's offended majesty against sin. There was nothing He looked upon here below that called for mercy on their behalf. The time was past for intercession. Accordingly the judgments rolled forth, and the wrath of God is finished (verse 6-8).
*It is extraordinary that the author of the Horae Apoc. should say that ναός or temple is sometimes used more largely of the whole, including the altar-court; stranger still that he should cite Rev. 11:1-2, in proof, seeing that the altar and the outer court are so expressly distinguished there (as I believe always). There is another word to comprehend all, namely, ἱερόν, which is never used in the Apocalypse, though it occurs repeatedly in other parts of the New Testament. So also the door of the tabernacle and the hanging at the court-gate are not confounded in scripture.
Now I must say a little on the details of God's judgments in Revelation 16. It is a painful subject and humbling, when we think that this is the declared end of man's vaunted progress. I will endeavour, then, briefly to glance at these seven plagues. "And I heard a loud voice out of the temple, saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God unto the earth" (verse 1). Wrath is no longer restricted to the third or fourth part, but the whole scene is given up to judgment. There is not only an increase of severity, but the whole of that which had once the light of God, and had far and wide enjoyed outward privileges, is in complete apostacy, and given up to His wrath.
"And the first went away and poured out his vial unto the earth; and there came a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and them which worshipped his image. And the second poured out his vial unto the sea," etc.
The first four vials resembled the trumpets in this, that they both fall on the earth and sea, on the rivers and fountains of water, and finally on the sun. There may be certain differences; for in the trumpet it was the third part only of the sun that was smitten. Here it is simply said, "the sun." Still it was the same sort of sphere. Further, I think the objects of these plagues, the earth, sea, etc., are not to be taken in a merely literal way. The language is symbolical. Not that there would be to my own mind the slightest difficulty in believing that God could do these things in a literal way, if this were His will. He has turned the waters of Egypt into blood, filled a kingdom with darkness, and inflicted plagues similar to what we have here: so that there is no difficulty in conceiving such a thing again. But the only question is, whether this is what we are to gather from the chapter before us. I think it is not; and that God here alludes to plagues that were once literal in the land of Egypt, but that are now referred to symbolically, representing certain judgments of God. First, the ordered and settled parts of the world are smitten as with an ulcerous distemper, where men were branded with subjection to the apostate civil power and his idolatry. Next, there is a judgment on the sea; that is, on the outside regions, where profession of life quite died out. The third, I conceive, represents by rivers people formed into a separate condition of nationality, like waters flowing in a distinct channel, under special local influence; and by the fountains rather the springs of a nation's prosperity. All the active principles assume the form of death. The third judgment comes down to smaller details than the former ones. The fourth is on the public supreme authority.
In verses 5-7 we have a word or two which, when corrected or rightly read, adds to the full force and clearness of the passage. "Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast," etc. I noted (on Rev. 11) that the words, "and shalt be," were of no force at all here, and that another word is the best attested — the Holy One." It is the very same word that occurs in Revelation 16:5 — the less usual one for "holy." Before these vials are poured out, God is celebrated in His merciful holiness. "Thou art righteous." This was plain, for God was pouring out His wrath upon men in their iniquity, just because He was righteous. But more than this — "which art and wast, the Holy One." Before the vials are poured out, and now again while they are in course of pouring out, that remains true. The angel of the waters attests His graciousness, even while He was judging thus, which might have seemed to contradict it. He too, from below, answers to the song above. If the saints, at rest on the sea of glass, celebrate Him as merciful in holiness, the angel confirms it.
"For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou gavest them blood to drink; they are worthy" (verse 6). There was righteous retribution — they were worthy in an awful sense. "And I heard" not another out of the altar, but "I heard the altar say" (verse 7). It may seem extraordinary to speak of "the altar saying," and no doubt the other words were put in because people thought it so strange. But there is nothing really contrary to prophetic usage if it be taken in a symbolical way. No person would intentionally foist a difficulty into scripture: but it is too common to try and remove that which is not understood out of the word, thus to make it plain according to ordinary modes of thought. Besides, you have what might prepare the way for it elsewhere. In Revelation 9:13, it is said, "I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God." Here (Rev. 16) the figure goes farther: the voice is said to be that of the altar itself. To me it confirms what we have had various occasions to remark — the fact and impropriety of men's meddling with scripture. "I heard the altar say" has great force for this reason. In an earlier part of the book, the souls of those that were "slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held," were seen under the altar. Now here that altar which had witnessed their blood is said to cry out to God, and to own that His judgments are true and righteous. In the first book of the Bible, the earth is spoken of as crying out to God about the blood of Abel: much more should not the altar cry about the blood of God's martyred saints? To my own mind it is uncommonly pertinent. If it had been merely an angel, this would have been a comparatively distant link; for an angel, though ministering for them who shall be heirs of salvation, does not enter so directly into their sufferings, and can scarcely be said to have immediate sympathy with them. But God not only had seen the bones of His slaughtered saints scattered upon the cold mountains, as poets sing, but regards His saints as so many burnt-offerings rising up before Him whose blood, or rather the altar which witnessed it, calls for indignation and wrath. The Lord may seem to slumber for a season, but when He awakes, as one out of sleep, He will surely avenge their blood on them that dwell on the earth. And now it is at hand. Great Babylon had not yet come into remembrance, though from the beginning the special corruptress of the truth, and drunken with the blood of the saints. But meanwhile the altar could not hold its peace, and the Lord listens and hears. For the God who heeds the groans of the creature will surely answer the altar's cry about His slain ones.
"And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire" (verse 8). It is a judgment on the sun, the figure of supreme government; so that what ought to have been the means of light and comfort — that greater light which rules the day — now becomes the means of scorching men with fire. The effect of its tyranny is intolerable. "And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which had authority over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory" (verse 9).
"And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the throne of the beast," etc. (verse 10.) We are now entering upon a somewhat different class of judgments; for the last three vials differ from the first four, just as the last three trumpets had a different character from the rest. And so with the seals also. It is evident that the fifth, sixth, and seventh vials are apart from the preceding four. The judgment falls upon the throne of the beast and upon his kingdom — not upon the beast himself, who is apparently untouched by these vials. He is reserved for the judgment of the Lord Jesus Himself at His coming, and will be destroyed by His appearing. Here the stroke is merely upon the seat of his authority; and just as of old king Pharaoh was hardened, so here men blasphemed the God of heaven, and repented not of their deeds (verse 11). When God manifests Himself as the God of the earth, this will not be possible.
"And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates, and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings" — not exactly of the east, but — "that are from the east might be prepared" (verse 12). The Euphrates was the great eastern boundary of the Roman empire: it was the regular line to which they carried their conquests. So that the drying up of the Euphrates would seem to mean that this side of the empire would be left open as a way for the eastern powers to come and mingle with those of the west, or to assault them. One effect of this vial, then, would be the removal of the eastern barrier, and thus the way of the kings from the east is prepared probably for the great closing conflicts.
But there is more than this. "I saw out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs"* (ver. 13). It is just before the end. These murmuring spirits issued out of the mouth of the three powers which we have seen in Revelation 13: out of the dragon, the open enemy of Christ; out of the beast, the revived Roman Empire; and out of the false prophet, the ecclesiastical beast that had lamb-like horns, imitating Christ's power, but now spoken of only in his deceptive religious character. "For they are the spirits of demons, working signs, who go forth unto the kings of the whole habitable world, to gather them unto the battle of [that] great day of God the Almighty." This confirms what I have just stated about the Euphrates. It is a general collision of the kings of all the habitable world. Not only the western powers are arrayed for the war, but the eastern also. It is the great day.
*Most readers of the Horae Apoc. will remember that, after giving evidence of the working of the frog-like unclean spirits in England (the draconic spirit of heathen-like anti-social infidelity, the Popish spirit, the Tractarian spirit), Mr. E recurs to the hopeful strain of a bright future for his country, and conjectures that France may be the country called to the bad pre-eminence of being the chief secular power employed by these demons to gather the world's powers to the last great war of Armageddon. "There is a curious heraldic fact," he adds, (vol. iii. pp. 533, 534) "accordant with this view, which (considering how frequently such national emblems have been had in view in the Apocalyptic figurations) I cannot permit myself to pass over in silence, though by no means wishing to insist much on it; viz., that, as the three spirits do each and all most assuredly energize in the French nation and priesthood, so their Apocalyptic symbol, the three frogs, are the old arms of France." And then we have a plate in illustration of the alleged fact, with some subjoined annotations. Now, it happens that natural history comes in as an awkward witness here, for the "fact" turns out that Mr. E. confounds crapaud with grenouille; or, as the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana say (and so Court de Gebelin), cited by himself, the arms of France, as some affirm, bear three toads sable, etc. In a word, in order to convey correctly such a reference, the Greek should have been ὡς φρῦνοι, rather than βάτραχοι. Four other authors he produces say frogs; but this seems loose, and not to set aside the more precise word. Of course I think the point trifling in the extreme.
But now comes an important parenthesis. As was shown under the sixth seal and the sixth trumpet, so here we find an interruption also. "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame" (verse 15). It is the Lord coming, but then He is coming in judgment to surprise the earth; and this is the reason why the figure is used. The thief comes unexpected and unwelcome: still more unpalatable will be the Lord's coming to the earth. But there will be saints to whom it will be welcome, to whom His appearing will bring deliverance by the judgment of their enemies. And they are enjoined to watch closely the daily life. "Behold, I come as a thief." Not so the Lord presents Himself to us, save as telling us how He will appear to the world or the professing mass cast into it. When speaking to us He says, "Behold, I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." Need one say how much more blessed is this word? The idea of coming as a thief involves surprise. To us He will come as a gracious One, who loves that we should have the rest of our affections and our glory in and with Himself: this is our own proper portion and hope. Here it is not rapture to heaven, but Jewish deliverance by judgment.
Then, after closing the parenthesis, it is said, "And he gathered them together into a place, called in the Hebrew tongue, Armageddon." It might seem strange that it should be said, "He gathered;" for in the fourteenth verse the evil spirits, or spirits of demons, were those that went forth to gather the kings together. The reason is this. In the language that the Holy Ghost employed, the word is capable of meaning either he or they gathered. There are certain cases where, in that language, it is doubtful whether "they" or "he" be meant; and this is one. The word "demons" is of such a nature, that the verb which has it for its subject might be either singular or plural. Here the subject is not expressed, so that it is quite optional as far as this is concerned: all depends upon the sense of the context. If it be "He gathered," the reference of course is to God Almighty, who might be said to do it through the intervention of these unclean spirits. If it be "they gathered, it would simply mean that the spirits of demons had accomplished the purpose for which they were sent forth. In verse 14, they proceeded to gather the kings; and in verse 16, the kings are gathered together.
The place of gathering that is mentioned here, called in Hebrew Armageddon, is, I think, an allusion to Judges 5:19. "The kings came and fought: then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo." It was not that Megiddo was a place of any great size or note. God looks to the principle at issue. Israel was in a low state. There was a prophetess that the Lord used to inspire them with courage; and when encouraged by her, they won a great victory over their enemies. The same place is referred to in 2 Chron. 35:22, when Josiah received his death-wound in battle with the king of Egypt. But I doubt that this is the incident referred to by the Spirit of God here. For Megiddo in the day of the Judges was a memento of joy and triumph to Israel. In the time of Josiah it was a place of gloom; all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. It was "the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley* of Megiddon" (Zech. 12:11), which led historically to the writing of the book of Lamentations. For this reason I think that Armageddon (i.e. the mountain of Megiddo) here refers not to the sorrow for Josiah in 2 Chronicles, but to the gathering and defeat of the Gentile kings in Judges. For here it is the Lord beating down the nations. He had been acknowledged as king of the nations in Rev. 15; and therefore, to make this an allusion to a time when the godly Jewish monarch was slain by a Gentile would be little appropriate. But to derive it from the day when Israel had been led on to victory even by a woman well fits into the scene that is here described, when the kings of the whole world will be gathered only for a more terrible destruction.
*A mountain of course implies a valley. The singular variation of A (ποταμόν, river) may have been either taken from the waters of Megiddon in Judges 5:19, or more probably was a blunder for τόπον, just as in Revelation 15 A C, three cursives, not to speak of some MSS. mentioned by Andreas, Bede, support λίθον, stone! for λίνον. The Harleian cursive of the eleventh century (5537) exhibits the still stranger ληνόν.
A few words must suffice for the last vial. "The seventh angel poured out his vial upon the air; and there come forth a loud voice from the temple [of heaven], from the throne, saying, It is done" (verse 17). This is a more penetrating judgment, and one more affecting men and their very life-breath than any we have yet seen. It is on the air, necessary to the existence of men. Symbolically it represents a judgment on something that is as essential to the life and comfort of men as that which we breathe. All is over as regards God's wrath here poured out.
"And there were lightnings and voices and thunders: and there was a great earthquake, such as was not seen since a man was on the earth, so mighty an earthquake and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell," etc. There was a vast and unexampled convulsion of civil associations — breaking up, not only what is called here "the great city" (which means all that was established within the Roman empire), but more than that, the cities of the nations fell; that is, it was the ruin of all that the nations outside Rome had built up politically. And furthermore, Babylon the great — that counterfeit of the bride, and hitherto successful system of religious evil, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth; Babylon the great — came up in remembrance before God to receive from Him the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. The latter term, Babylon the great, refers rather to moral character or idolatry.
"And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And there fell upon men great hail, about the weight of a talent, out of heaven, and men blasphemed God," etc. (verses 20, 21.) It is not necessary that I should speak particularly of the explanation offered by the leading historicalists. The hailstorm Mr. E. used to apply to some fearful infliction of France, the most northerly of the Papal kingdoms, much as he had surmised in the minor judgments, as he would say, of the seventh trumpet. And so it yet stands in the text of Horae Apoc., vol. iv. p. 23. But in a note he observes that many expositors prefer to explain it of the Russian power. "And in revising my work, and comparing this prophecy with one in Ezekiel 38, 39, which seems to point to Russia's taking part in the great pre-millennial conflict, as will be noticed in the end of my next chapter, I cannot but incline to the same view. I observe that the great hail is here predicted as falling after, not before, the great city's tri-partition." Having already expressed my opinion on the similar case of Rev. 11:19, and shown the error of connecting this verse with the seventh trumpet, which is the assumption of these writers, I need only remark that the reference to Ezekiel is peculiarly unhappy, because the scene there is Palestine, not the Papal empire or the west; and that the issue is not the infliction of a plague on others, and God blasphemed in consequence, but the utter discomfiture of the Prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, with his vast company, and God sanctified thereby. "And I will plead against him with pestilence, and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire and brimstone." Thus it is God who plagues the invading Russian with great hailstones, not they who so fall on others. "Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself (not then men blaspheming God because of the plague of the hail); and I will be known in the eyes of many nations; and they shall know that I am the Lord." Indeed, the reader has simply to examine the context of the Jewish prophet in order to be satisfied of the absurdity of connecting that scene with the hailstorm of the seventh vial. For the Jews, nay, Israel as a whole, are supposed to be at that time restored and united in their own land, when Gog invades it through lust of conquest. There is no ground to think that such is the case under the vials. Neither does Mr. E. so judge, if I understand his remarks on the first occurrence of "Hallelujah" in Rev. 19, which he views as an indication of the conversion of the Jews, after the final catastrophe of Babylon, when the outpouring of the vials is completed and has marked the time for it.
Before God establishes His purposes in power, you see a moral accomplishment working either in His people or in the world. Thus, if God is to bring about a separation of His people by judgment, which we had in Revelation 15, I doubt not that His people are even now being separated graciously by the Spirit of God. If, on the other hand, there is to be a delusion over men's hearts, so that even the judgments of God will only aggravate the evil to all appearance, something analogous is at work in our day. Is it not a fearful sign that Christians, in the face of such words as these, can look for any real amelioration of things as they are? Here we have the true closing scene disclosed by God after all the efforts and boasts of men. The most favoured part of the earth, its civilized and moral centre, is to be full of apostacy, and the wrath of God must be finished there. This must be ere the Lord Jesus Christ will come in glory to set up His kingdom; for He it is in person who shall deal with the beast. Under the vials it is God chastising in wrath. But what is the effect? Men blaspheme God. Instead of repenting, they become worse and worse at every step.
It is a terrible thing to see this evil morally spreading over the world; but the Lord is also separating, by faith and affection, to Himself. May we hold fast grace! We shall need it. It is the only place, not merely of privileges, but of security. What should we think of the man who would merely go as far as he thinks he must not to be lost — who wants to be saved, but withal to be allowed to sin as much as in his opinion he may, so as to escape at last? But as the Lord is separating by personal affection to Himself, where there is faith, so, on the other hand, the opposite of it we find where faith is lacking. God gives up men to delusion, and all that He does in the way of judgment only hardens them. Preparatorily this is going on now: men are yielding to and choosing their own delusions. The full pure truth is distasteful and dreaded. So that, in spite of God's Spirit working to present truth with all simplicity to His people, men are obstinately comforting themselves with the dream that things after all are not so bad; that if there are things to be regretted, the remedy is at hand. For now there are so many ways of helping on the poor — such delightful minglings of the rich with them — such promising unions which invite all men to come together and join, spite of their little differences, for the great object of social advancement, the improvement of Christendom, and the regeneration of the world. But all this is founded on the miserable delusion which ignores and denies that God's wrath is to be filled up and poured out upon Christendom. It is impossible that Christians, who realise that such judgments are near, could lend themselves to schemes which assume the very reverse. Suppose a person going to execution — what would be thought of a Christian man who, knowing this, would occupy the criminal's time with chemical experiments, or a lecture on mechanics? Much less would one who feels the solemn truth that the world lies under such a sentence as God's word declares. Christ alone is the power of God to set things right. When He comes, and not before, the tide of evil will be stemmed, and Satan bound: but not even divine judgments apart from Christ can avail.
May we be in earnest, always seeking to connect Christ with our testimony! That is the great practical purport of all for the present moment. Sometimes we may hinder blessing by presenting the truth, but not in Christ, if I may so say. The heart must be sadly perverted, if it refuses Him. The Lord grant that we may keep these two things before our souls — thorough separation from all that is of the world, and this place of victory held with joy, our hearts taking up the song of which the Lamb is the subject, as He alone gives us the power to sing it. May we ever think of the world as a judged scene, conscious of the terrible wrath it cannot escape! This will not make us distrustful of the power of Christ to deliver individuals, but it will preserve us from any insensibility as to either the world's evil, or the divine judgment which awaits it.
The Spirit of God has shown us the destruction of Babylon under the last vial. We are now to learn in the chapter before us what was her special evil, what there was so hateful to God in Babylon; not only what her own conduct was, but what there was in her connection with others, that God could endure no longer — why it was that He singled her out above all others for His vengeance. And this is not a thing that we can put aside from us, as perhaps some others may be in the Apocalypse, as comparatively foreign or distant. For though there may be, and I doubt not will be, a further development of Babylon, yet God looks at it as a moral whole; as a system of corruption that has been at work, and that is still at work. When judgment can delay no longer, it may have taken a peculiarly aggravated form; but the evil exists and is active. Babylon is not so much the snare of a profane man, as it is that of one who, having a certain idea of religion, seeks to reconcile it with the world. It is then that the corrupting influence becomes a source of chief danger to the soul.
Now we shall find that, first of all, the chapter gives us the vision which the Apostle John is taken to see; and next we have a certain explanation of that vision. The angel's word commences more particularly in this way at the seventh verse, while the first six verses are occupied with recounting the vision. One other remark I would make before proceeding farther. This chapter does not carry us forward as a matter of history. It is rather the Holy Ghost looking back upon the character, conduct, and relationships of that Babylon which had been already shown as the object of the judgment of God. This is worthy of note, because, if not seen, there is inevitable confusion in our thoughts of the book. In Revelation 14 we had the fall of Babylon in connection with the evil workings of Satan, and with the dealings of God in goodness or power, including the Son of man's judgment at the close. Now, it is of no little moment to have the precise niche where this intervention of God is to be looked for, and that we had in the next place. For we have seen in the providential judgments of God — by which I mean those which are executed by angels, and not by Christ directly — Babylon reserved for the last stroke of His wrath under the seventh vial. It is God acting — God still employing angels. The Lord Jesus is thus far quiescent, if I may so say; not acting yet in vengeance personally upon the earth.
In Rev. 17 the Holy Ghost stops to enter into the details of the moral cause of Babylon's terrible fall. "There came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying, Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore; that sitteth on [the]* many waters" (ver. 1). It is described as a harlot here; not only as a woman, but as a corrupt and licentious one. And I suppose that no dispassionate person would doubt that this term is used in special reference to religious corruption. A little lower down in the third verse, Babylon is said to be sitting on the beast; here she sits by the many waters. There is a slight difference in the Greek. Sitting by the many waters does not mean that she was literally or locally thereupon, but beside them. Thus, you may say, for instance, that London is seated on the Thames. Now no one of common understanding would suppose the meaning to be that London was actually situated and built over the bed of the river, but that the Thames is the stream which characterizes London. So here in the same way we have the whore described as seated on (i.e. beside) the many waters. These are explained in verse 15. "The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues." The figure implies the wide-spread influence which this abandoned woman exercises. But there is more than that. In the second verse it is said, "with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication." This is something more than her seat by the mass of waters. It is immediate intercourse of an evil kind carried on with the kings of the earth — her power in drawing away and seducing the affections from Christ, who is the only worthy object of all love and worship. In the sphere where God's light had been displayed, the chiefs or leaders are led away by the corruptress, and the people are entirely ruined as to all discernment of the mind of God.
*The article (twice) is omitted by ℵ A P, seven cursives, Hippolytus and Andreas. I have therefore bracketed it as a mark of doubt, though disposed to lean towards its reception, spite of its absence in the Sept. Ver. of Jer. 51:13, etc. It is strange that any should imagine a reference in Dan. 7:2, or Rev. 13:1, any more than here, to the literal Mediterranean. In Hebrew (or Chaldee) "the great sea" when used of the Mediterranean is a totally distinct phrase.
Nothing, then, can be plainer than the general bearing of these few verses. We have the vast influence of Babylon set forth by the figure of a woman seated beside many waters; next we have the great leaders of Christendom, the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication with her; and then the inhabitants of the earth stupefied with the wine of her fornication. There are different degrees of guilt, but all were the result of connection more or less intimate with Babylon. "So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness" (verse 3). In spite of all her pride and worldly glory, to the saint of God the wilderness is the only place where the Spirit leads him to behold her. Had John gone in his own spirit (so to speak), it might have carried him to look at Babylon, not in the wilderness, but rather in the mirage of some garden of the Lord. But he was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord into the wilderness, and there he sees the harlot sitting upon a scarlet-coloured beast; a closer thing and of more ominous import, as we noticed, than her description at the end of verse 1. This shows us the actual position of the woman. She has supremacy over the Roman empire. For there can be no legitimate question that the beast here brought before us is that same Roman empire, of which we have heard such terrible doings, and so portentous a doom, in previous chapters. It is the beast that is full of the names of blasphemy, as his heads were so viewed in Rev. 13:1. Babylon is a whore or corrupting system; but blasphemy is what belongs to the beast. It is a more open and audacious evil. The woman's way is more seductive, and one that lays hold of the affections. But blasphemy is the expression of a power that fears neither God nor man. As for the woman, though seated on the beast, glad to be exalted through him, and willing to use him for her own purposes, yet is she distinctively the religious system of the world. She is "arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls:" the obvious figures of all that the world counts great and glorious and beautiful here below. But she has also "a golden cup in her hand, full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication" (verse 4). In spite of all her glittering, gaudy splendour, how the Holy Ghost brings out together with it what is most nauseous! He has no words too strong to express His sense of what He sees in the cup. It is "full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication." By "abominations" in scripture regularly is meant idolatry. This is the gravest distinguishing feature in Babylon. As the beast was full of names of blasphemy, so was the harlot's cup full of abominations. But besides the idols, there was this corrupting influence, here called the uncleanness of her fornication. They are two distinct things. There might be the depraving influence without the idols; but in Babylon both are actively at work.
In the Apocalyptic churches it was observed that in Pergamos appears the doctrine of Balaam, who taught among other things to commit fornication. When we came to Thyatira, there we saw Jezebel, who imposed idolatry by force. Here in Babylon both are united. The evils that crept into Christendom in those earlier days, discerned in Pergamos and Thyatira, both appear concentrated and undisguised in the cup of this wicked woman. They were budding then; now they are full-blown in all their hatefulness before the prophet. They may be tricked out in all the meretricious tinsel of this world; but nothing could change or hide their real character before God.
"And upon her forehead a name written, Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth" (verse 5). There was great pretension to truth — a masterpiece of the enemy in counterfeiting the revealed ways of God. The mystery of Christ and the church had been revealed; now there is the mystery of this anti-church; not the mystery of faith and godliness, but of lawlessness — Babylon the great seated on the beast, the awful contrast of the church which is subject unto Christ. Here she rules the beast. The holy city, Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, — not "that great city"* but, — the holy city, which is the true way in which God characterizes the bride, the Lamb's wife, the glorified church. This religious system, on the contrary, sprang from the earth (not to say more than that), enticed into its defiling embrace the kings of the earth, and extended its malignant influence far and wide. Such was Babylon, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth. Whatever evil thing was used by Satan for the purpose of ensnaring the affections from Christ, whatever idolatrous object took His place, she is the mother of them all. Babylon is the great parent of all the worldly systems, and of the idolatries used by the enemy to draw away souls entirely from the Lord.
*The common text of Rev. 21:10 is faulty.
But there is another thing mentioned in the vision still more extraordinary to the prophet's mind. He could not doubt the religious character of this woman, Babylon the great; he sees her at the same time drunken with the blood of the saints. He could well understand a religious system becoming corrupt. Jerusalem itself had, alas! become as Sodom and Gomorrah, first for guilt and afterwards well-nigh for judgment. But that the woman should be drunken with the blood of the saints was what filled even John's mind with great astonishment. Bad as passion is, it is not the worst thing that the heart of man is capable of. The deceivableness of false religion is that in which Satan displays his direct power. For the very thing which God has given for light and blessing, to win the heart and to bring into fellowship with Himself, is abused by the enemy to make a man a worse man than ever — twofold more the child of hell than before.
But astonished as John must have been of old to hear such a sentence upon beloved but guilty Jerusalem, here he has to wonder still more when he learns that the woman who had assumed the place of the church should not only end in the same blood-guiltiness, but should be drunken with the blood of the very martyrs of Christ Himself. This was what filled his mind with amazement indeed (verse 6).
And we now come to the explanation which the angel furnishes of the vision. It is of deep importance; for you will find that when God interprets, He not merely opens to us that which needed solution, but He gives us truth more abundantly. "And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and the ten horns" (verse 7). This is in fact the main subject of the chapter; it is a description of the woman more particularly, and of her connections with the beast, the Roman empire. For manifestly and beyond denial, the woman and the beast are two distinct things. For if the beast be the Roman empire, as those will have seen who have followed me through this book, the woman cannot be. She may be seated upon the beast, but for that very reason she is not the same thing. And not only is the woman distinct from the beast, but, as we find afterwards, the beast turns against the woman and takes his part in destroying her.
Therefore it is quite evident, that it is impossible to suppose the woman and the beast to be the same thing. In the end they are so violently opposed, that the one becomes the destruction of the other. So that the woman must necessarily be some power distinct from the empire. We shall find more reasons that confirm their distinction.
"The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and is to ascend out of the abyss, and go into destruction; and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and shall be present" (verse 8). I have no hesitation in saying that so runs the last clause of the verse. This would not be questioned by those who are sufficiently acquainted with the subject to form an opinion. Persons may differ in the explanation of the verse; but there can be no doubt that such is the true reading. The common text here is almost contradictory of itself, and affords no just sense.
Now let us consider a little what is taught by this verse. The beast is the Roman empire, as we have before seen. But we learn here that that empire was to cease to be. The countries and peoples that composed it would remain; but its imperial unity would cease to exist. The fractional parts would be there, each nation having its own independent government, but there would be no corporate bond. Such is their condition in our day, as it has been for more than a thousand years. "The beast which thou sawest was, and is not, and shall ascend out of the abyss." The angel characterizes this empire as no other empire ever has been or could be. It was first found in its strength, then to cease, and afterwards to rise again. But there is an exceedingly grave feature that attaches to the reappearance of the empire; it is to have a diabolical character. And as it comes from Satan, so must it end with Satan: it shall "go into destruction."
These things could not be said in the same sense or strictness of any other empire. None that has appeared yet upon earth but what has had its rise, its splendour for a little while in full power, and then its extinction, sudden or gradual, never to rise again. I am not aware of any example to the contrary. Most peculiar is the lot of that empire which was so prominent in the apostle John's mind. It existed in the time of John: under it indeed he was personally suffering. But it was to terminate its career; and then, after a condition of non-existence, to rise out of the abyss or bottomless pit. "They that dwell on the earth shall wonder … when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and shall be present." When this beast reappears in its last Satanic phase, men would be carried away by their excessive admiration of it.
"Here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth" (verse 9). This is a material point, though simple. It is a local mark, intended to indicate to the wise mind, where this woman has her seat. There ought not to be the least doubt that it is a reference to Rome. The word "Babylon" had been used, it is true, in speaking of it, as Sodom and Egypt were figuratively applied to Jerusalem in Revelation 11; but the Chaldean capital had nothing to do with the city of Rev. 17. That had long passed away as an imperial city; whereas in verse 18 it is said of this Babylon that "it reigneth over the kings of the earth." More than this, the literal Babylon in Chaldea was built on the plain of Shinar. Here the woman was seated on seven mountains; and all the world is aware that such is the well-known characteristic of Rome. In prose or in poetry, if any city were described as being seated upon seven hills, every one would say, That must be Rome.
But we have an additional explanation in the following verse. "There [or they] are seven kings: the five are fallen, the one is, and the other is not yet come: and when he cometh, he must continue a short space" (verse 10). Here the Holy Ghost, without entering into detail, refers to the various forms of government which were to succeed each other in the famous city Rome: seven heads or kings; but not contemporary: for five, as it is said, were fallen; one is, and the other is not yet come. This implies succession. Five different modes of government had already passed away. "One is," namely, the imperial form then subsisting, when the apostle lived — the line of Caesars. Another of the seven was not yet come, which, when it did, must continue a short space.
"And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into destruction" (verse 11). There is this peculiar character attributed to the beast here, that in one sense he would be of the seven, and in another he would form an eighth or extraordinary beast. It would in certain respects be a new form of power altogether, while in others it would be but a revival of what had gone before. The reason is, that the beast at first might be like any other empire. It might owe its rise providentially to human revolutions; for men when they have tried democracy are apt to grow weary and disappointed, and then some vigorous arm takes advantage of the reaction, and a despotic power is the not unnatural result. I have no doubt this will be the history of the west. The eighth head, though an individual ruler, is spoken of as the beast or empire, because he is morally the empire, directing as supreme all its authority. He is of the seven, for there will be a continuance or taking up of some such form of power as before. But he will be the eighth, because there will be something so peculiar as to deserve a name to itself. That new feature may refer perhaps to the diabolical power that stamps the beast in his last or quasi-resurrection state.
"And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet, but receive authority as kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and shall give their power and authority to the beast." It is not that we are to suppose "one hour" to mean mystically, or literally, such a brief division of time as it has been the vain attempt of so many persons to try and make out. But the meaning is that these are kings who receive royal authority for one and the same time* with the beast.
*Quite agreeing with Mr. E. that the notion of horal brevity is untenable, must utterly reject his statement (H. A., iii. pp. 81, 82, and often elsewhere) that "at one and the same time" is either the most natural or the true rendering. It is almost past comprehension how a scholar could have committed himself to what he says in his notes: "There is no doubt that accusative of time may (!) signify duration; but seldom, I believe, except after verbs signifying action such as may imply time; not often after verbs, like λαμβανω, of action instantly completed." The truth is, as every person of learning must know, that as a rule the temporal accusative distinctively denotes duration, while the dative is just as notoriously used for a point of time, and the genitive when time is conceived as the necessary condition of the action, and therefore antecedent to it. Nor is this confined to certain words only. "All verbs imply a notion of time (says Jelf, vol. ii. p. 377) over which the action extends, coincident and co-extensive with it; whence all verbs may have an accusative case of this coincident notion of time, if it be required definitely to express it." That I may not appear to have drawn the distinction of the Greek cases for controversial purposes, I must cite further from Jelf, § 606, obs. 2. "The genitive, accusative, and dative, therefore, are all used to express relations of time, and they differ as follows: the time is represented by the genitive as the antecedent condition of the action; by the dative as the space wherein the action took place; while the accusative expresses the duration of the action. So compare ταύτης τῆς ἡμέρας οἱ Ἕλληνες ἐμαχέσαντο, this day giving them the occasion, with ταυτῃ τῃ ἡμέρᾳ, on this day, and ταύτην τὴν ἡμέραν, throughout this day." These general principles find the fullest illustration in the Hellenistic of the LXX. and the New Testament, as well as in classical Greek. See, for the time at which (the dative), Gen. 2:2-3, 17; Gen. 3:5; Gen. 5:1-2; Gen. 6:4; Gen. 7:11, 13; Gen. 8:4-5, 13, 14; Gen. 14:4-5; Gen. 15:16, 18; Gen. 17:26; Gen. 19:33-34, 35; Gen. 21:4, 8; Gen. 22:3, etc. But why thus run through the occurrences? It were to cite from every book of the Bible, wherein epochs are spoken of. I will only therefore refer to the Apocalypse, as it may be alleged that the Greek is peculiar there: Rev. 1:10; Rev. 2:13; Rev. 9:6; Rev. 10:7; 11, 13; Rev. 18:8, 10, 16, 19. On the contrary, when duration is intended, the accusative is employed with equal regularity: Gen. 3:14, 17; Gen. 5:3-4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, etc., passim; Gen. 7:4, 12, 17, 24. Gen. 8:10, 12, 22; Gen. 9:28; Gen. 11:11-26 — in every verse, etc. So in Rev. 2:10 (in the text of B, thirty-two cursives, and apparently the ancient versions, Arethas, and the Catena, while A C many cursives, Andreas, etc., have ἡμερῶν); Rev. 6:11; Rev. 8:1; Rev. 9:5, 10; Rev. 11:2-3, 6 (so in ℵ A B C P, most cursives, Hippolytus, Andreas — save in one manuscript — Arethas and the Catena), 9; Rev. 12:6, 14; Rev. 13:5; Rev. 17:10 (not to speak of 12); Rev. 20:2, 4, 6. It is certain, therefore, that the most natural rendering of μίαν ὥραν is (not at, but) for one hour. (Compare Daniel 4:9; Matt. 20:12; 26:40.) As to the action expressed by the verb, the objection is futile. If the angel bound Satan for a thousand years, the ten horns may assuredly receive kingly authority for one and the same time with the beast. It is not the mere act of binding or receiving, but the effect which spreads over the given time. Is it denied then that the point of time is ever found in the accusative? Not at all; "but this only (says Jelf, § 571, obs. i.) in general notions of time, such as seasonably, lastly, where the accusative stands for the cognate substantive." Nobody can pretend that such is the case in the disputed clause. And in my opinion it is more than questionable in the three exceptions which are produced (as if they were the ordinary construction!) from the New Testament: John 4:52, Acts 10:3, and Rev. 3:3. As to Acts 10:3, we know that the best manuscripts, the Alexandrian, the Vatican, the Sinaitic, the Palimpsest of Paris, the Laudian of Oxford, not to speak of some twenty-five juniors and other good authorities, insert περί, as all do in verse 9. As to John 4:52, may it not be accounted for by a reference to the question of the nobleman? He enquired the hour, τὴν ὥραν, ἐν ῃ. The servants answer, Yesterday ἑβδόμην ὥραν. Then he knew that it was ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῃ ὥρᾳ in which Jesus had spoken the word of healing power. So again, I think, Rev. 3:3 is probably due to a sort of mixed construction dependent on γνῳς. It may not be known generally that this is one of the instances alleged by unfriendly criticism in evidence that the Apocalypse employs the accusative of time contrary to good usage. But this, says Professor Stuart, is the only instance of the kind in the whole book. He explains it thus: "The time which is at the ultimate extent of his coming is here the prominent idea, and therefore the accusative is allowable." (Comment. Apoc. p. 204.) Matt. 24:41-42, 43, 44, 50; Luke 12:39, 46, show plainly enough the usage undisturbed by special causes. The difficulty is merely technical in the exceptional cases, which entirely differ from the text in question. As to it I see no ground for a doubt, nor have I any theory to uphold by it; for the true rendering implies the same starting-point, but it also determines the equal duration of the beast and the ten horns. The AEthiopic and Arabic understood the phrase as expressive of duration, the Syriac and Latin as a point of time. But why attach such moment to the Vulgate on a nicety like this, when the words which conclude the verse contain the gross blunder of rendering μετὰ τοῦ θ. as if it were μ. τὸ θ.? Some copies add "et" also — "[et] post bestiam." Cyril and Theodoret do not touch the question. Can Mr. E, produce a single instance from any correct writer where μίαν ὥραν or ἡμέραν, as here without a mixed construction, is used save for during one hour or day?
Abstractedly, ever so many years might be meant, or only a short period. It is not a question of what an "hour" means. These ten horns should not merely have their period of authority, but they receive it for one and the same time with the beast. This is most important to the due understanding of this verse. It overthrows all the prophetical systems which have attempted to make out that this chapter has been exhausted in the past or present. The common view of the chapter may have a certain measure of truth; because, as I fully believe, the book of Revelation was intended to be partially accomplished all through the dispensation; but the complete fulfilment is only at the close. The barbarian hordes came down from the north and east of Europe and Asia, about the fifth century, and overspread the Roman empire, bursting over Europe from all points, and attacking it within and on every side, so that the empire, already too extended, and crumbling under its own weight, found it impossible to hold up against these vigorous and repeated assaults from so many quarters. By degrees the Goths and Vandals, etc., settled themselves in the various parts of that which was once united. They were the enemies that destroyed the empire.
But this is not what is shown us in the chapter. It tells us that these kings receive authority for one hour with the beast. Supposing that these barbarian kingdoms had been exactly ten in number, even this does not answer to what we have here; because we are told that these ten kings receive authority for one and the same time with the beast. They only received their power when the beast was dead, when the Roman empire had fallen. They destroyed the beast first, and then erected themselves into independent kingdoms.
Nothing can get rid of the sure and simple fact that these powers were not kingdoms in the empire while the empire lasted. They had not power with the beast, much less did they give their power and strength to the beast. For nothing is more certain than that when they became kingdoms, it was at the expense of the empire. When it was gone, they took up the broken fragments, and converted them into separate kingdoms, France, Spain, etc.; but the empire as such was fallen. The beast that is described here acquires power as an empire at the same time that these kings receive their power as kings. In other words, they are contemporary powers, the beast and the horns, and not that which we find in history at all. This prophecy shows us that the empire is only formed as such again at the same time that these ten kingdoms have their final power. They are co-existing, and have their dominion together — each of these several kingdoms working to a common end under the beast.
Thus in the facts of the past we know there was a united unbroken power, when the Roman empire governed the western world,* and did not admit of different independent kingdoms within its own limits. There was no such thing then as the kings of Spain, France, Italy, etc. It was an all-absorbing power, and would never have allowed such separate kingdoms to cluster round the imperial city. But the peculiarity of the future revived empire is that it will admit of distinct kings. Two things will be united which never were before. First, there has been the empire without kings — at least, so it was in the west, which is the question here. Then there were kings without the empire. The new feature will be this: neither the beast without the kings, nor the kings without the beast; but both the beast and the kingdoms going on together. This is what never has existed before.
*That is, the properly Roman part only of the empire, as we gather from Dan. 2:34-35, and Dan. 7 — not to speak of Dan. 11; from all which it is plain that the iron-clay kingdom does not refer to what was once under the Roman sway outside Europe, but to the western part which never belonged to Greece. Persia, or Babylon.
Hence the chapter gives us a view of the Roman empire as it will be resuscitated by the power of Satan, and shows that then it is destined to have the peculiar stamp of the enemy upon it. God Himself allows him to have his way for a short space, and to perpetrate all his wickedness before the end. Just as Judas was filled with Satan when he was about to betray the Lord for the price of a slave. He was under the influence of Satan before; but it is said then that Satan entered into him. He or his high-priest was the son of perdition: and this is the very name that is given to the future power that will rise up against the Lord from heaven. This empire is to rise up out of the bottomless pit, and to be clothed with a diabolical character and energy; and when it comes up, there are to be ten kingdoms, or kings, exercising regal power for the same period with the beast.
The next verse (13) shows us the policy common to them. "These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast." They are not jealous of the beast; their great object is to exalt him and to aggrandize his power. And what is the issue? what the use they make of their combined power? "These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him, called and chosen and faithful" (ver. 14). So it is evident from this, that the heavenly saints are already gone to the Lord. It is not that the Lord receives them now; they are with Him in the conflict, and before the conflict begins. And this is confirmed by Revelation 19:14: "And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, clean and white." Whence did they follow Him? Is it not from heaven? Christ is coming to attack the great adversary upon the earth whom Satan employs. But it is heaven that opens, and thence not only Christ comes, but "they that are with him, called and chosen and faithful."
This is not a description of angels: for though angels may be said to be "chosen" or "elect," they are never said to be "called." "Called" is a title only used of men, and supposes the working of grace. Angels are not, and I think could not be, "called;" for if an angel were in a position of evil, he could not be delivered out of it; and if he were in a holy position, he would not need "calling." Calling always presumes a condition out of which the called are brought. The believer is brought from a place of sin and misery into one of salvation and blessing. This is true of man alone. He, is the only creature of God that is called, through God's grace, out of a state of ruin into the blessedness and glory of redemption. And as in Revelation 17:14 there is this expression which shows us positively that saints and not angels are spoken of, so in Revelation 19:14 we are told that the armies which follow the Lamb out of heaven are "clothed in fine linen, white and clean." Now it is said in the same chapter (verse 8) that fine linen is the righteousness of saints. People may ask, Are not angels said to be clothed in linen? Yes, they are; but it is not the same term that is used for instance in Rev. 15:6. The Spirit of God employs a different expression to describe it, never confounding the two things. The plain inference then is that the glorified saints are in heaven with the Lord, before this conflict begins — not that they then meet the Lord in the air. When the Lord comes, we do meet Him in the air. Then it is that He will take us to heaven. But when He comes in order to judge and make war, we come with Him from heaven. How long a time may have expired while we are in heaven, and before we appear with the Lord, we do not know; but the coming of the Lord for the saints is an event that takes place some time before He comes with them. When He comes with the saints, it is for the purpose of judging the beast and his adherents. The church will come with Him then, and the Old Testament saints too; for they will have been caught up to the Lord at the same time that we are, I doubt not. "These shall make war with the Lamb" — but the victory is sure — "and the Lamb shall overcome them, … and they that are with him, called, and chosen, and faithful."
"And he said unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. And the ten horns which thou sawest and the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire" (verses 15, 16). This is another verse of great value for understanding the chapter. The common text thus says, "the ten horns which thou sawest upon* the beast;" but it ought to be read, "the ten horns which thou sawest and the beast." The importance of the change in this (and there is the best authority for it), that when people read, "the ten horns upon the beast," they might have imagined that, the Roman empire being gone, then these ten horns took its place. This would very well have suited the past history. But, as we have seen before, that the ten horns receive their kingdom for the same time with the beast, so here the Spirit of God says, "the ten horns which thou sawest and the beast." Thus any person who weighs this with verse 12 would perceive how mistaken the usual thought is. "The ten horns which thou sawest and the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate," etc.†
*Here is another flagrant proof of Mr. E.'s proneness to prefer a manifestly spurious reading which his hypothesis requires to the reading which has the support of the best authorities, and the suffrages of perhaps every critic of weight. But he now omits his words in the fifth edition, "I think with Daubuz, that this reading (και) is most unlikely. He writes thus: 'This (και) is the reading of the Complutensian edition; but the rest have epi to qhrion instead of και το θηριον. This last is not consistent with the description, or distinction, of the ten horns and the beast; and therefore I have received the other in my translation. For the beast, as such, can never (!) be said to hate the whore; but the horns upon the beast may' (p. 795). Vitringa too adopts the reading επι, 'decem cornu quae vidisti in Bestia.' Bellarmine urges the reading και, in defence of the Papacy against Protestants. 'For how can Bishops of Rome be antichrist,' he argues, 'when antichrist is to join with the ten kings and destroy Rome?' But the infallible Vulgate, we saw, as well as his brother Romanists, Ribera á Lapide, Malvenda, etc., are here against him. The prophetic sword's edge cannot be so averted from Rome. Bellarmine admits the beast to be antichrist, and the woman of the seven hills to be Rome. And what their pictured relation to each other in the vision but that of the closest intimacy and alliance? If και be read, what is said of the beast's hating the woman, etc., can be understood only of the city of Rome, not the church of Rome. For the apostate church's false prophet continues with the beast to the end. So Apoc. 19:19. Compare what is said of treading the winepress without the city, p. 15 supra." (H.A., vol. iv. p. 30, note l.) He now adds, "But see my note 3 on p. 74 of vol. iii. in support of the reading επι. I there cite Tertullian and Hippolytus, two Fathers of earlier date than any extant Greek MSS. of the Apocalypse in support of επι. It is the reading too of most copies of the Vulgate: Decem cornu[a] quae vidisti in Bestia, and adopted by the Romanists, Ribera, á Lapide, Malvenda, etc., as well as by our Protestant interpreters, Vitringa, Daubuz," etc. I have examined these citations, and am satisfied that neither Tertullian nor Hippolytus touch the question of ἐπί. Neither quotes the verse, nor says a word but what one who received χαί might say. Their codices too are far inferior in antiquity to the great uncials of the Apocalypse. The best copies of the Vulgate (Amiat. Fuld. Tolet. Demidov. etc.) read "et;" so that no critic could hesitate that Jerome, "that most critical of all the Fathers," rejected the reading which has crept into the inferior Greek and Latin manuscripts clean contrary to Mr. E.'s statement in vol. iii. p. 74, note 3. The healing of the wounded head is quite consistent with the destruction of the whore. As to the Romanist and Protestant commentators, not one of those cited was conversant with questions of text. So Desmarets, in his treatise on Antichrist, is imprudent enough to say, "Emendatissimi codices plerique. omnes, Stephanorum, nominatim, habeat ἐπί." Can one wonder that Professor Delitzsch says, One untruth is the mother of the rest? Even Erasmus went against his authority; for Cod. Reuchl. is now known to read καί, not ἐπί. It is not even correct to speak of Tichonius; for he and Bede omit the phrase. On the whole, Bengel (a wild commentator on the book, but a true critic everywhere) was justified in saying of the common reading, "Fecit Erasmus, quem hic quoque sequntur, qui solent, editores quanquam lectionem hanc Latinis deterioribus fictam vel solus Andreas Caesariensis redarguit." "Inanis esset tot codicum collatio, si talium quoque locorum germana lectio aut postponeretur sine fine, aut saltem in ancipiti relinqueretur." Even the prejudiced Wolff, who differed from Bengel wherever it was possible, here truly remarks, "Vel omnium vel plerumque codicum Graecorum consensus nun parvi fieri debet."
That Daubuz (1720) should have laboured under a mistake as to the comparative claims of the two readings one can conceive; that Vitringa, spite of his historical lore and general ability in expounding, should have ignored the best witnesses then known, is not perhaps very wonderful. But it is passing strange that in the face of the unanimity of critical editors, presenting every shade of religious prejudice and prepossession, such as Bengel, Griesbach, Lachmann, Matthaei, Scholz, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Vater, etc., who had no preconceived notions to blind their judgment, Mr. Elliott should persist in an opinion so unfounded. It is not a small matter to slight the evidence of the three uncials, forty cursives (some of the highest character), of the AEthiopic, Arabic of the Polyglotts, Syriac, etc. If Wilkins is to be depended on, the Coptic, it seems, should be added. As to the Vulgate, Mr. E. is misinformed. The common printed text, no doubt, has "in bestia;" but the very ancient and best copies (including the Amiatine in the Laurentian Library of Florence, and others already named) read "et bestiam." Whatever may be the inconsistency of Popish apologists, I cannot admire Protestant special pleading which contends for a reading that is utterly indefensible. In this instance, at least, it is plain which of the two is most open to the charge of blunting the edge of the prophetic sword. Rome is Babylon; but the ten horns AND the beast (hardly the Pope!) are yet to unite in destroying her. It is not the first intimacy or alliance which has closed in hatred and violence. The false prophet continues with the beast to the end; but this neither proves nor disproves that Babylon is the Romish church. Why may there not be a new form of religious wickedness in the Holy Land, even when Rome city and church shall have disappeared?
†The attempt of Protestants is vain to reconcile this statement with their theory that the woman and the beast refer to the church or city of Rome and the Papacy. Thus it has been recently argued that the woman is the Roma Dea, both Pagan and Papal, the scene representing Rome itself, in the latter point of view, the angel's explanation including also the previous pagan history. Accordingly the idea is that the ten horns undiademed are the Gothic powers desolating Rome, diademed are the same kingdoms giving their power to the Pope. For certainly the barbarians ravaged the empire as a whole, not the city exclusively, and out of the dismembered empire formed their own independent kingdoms. That is, the beast was that which they spoiled and destroyed much more than the woman. Nor were they united in a common feeling of hatred towards Rome. Envy, covetousness, lust of conquest would more aptly characterize the motives of the particular barbarians who attacked the city. Still less can it be said that, diademed or not, they gave their power to the Pope. It would be more true to say that they derived it from him as their ecclesiastical and spiritual head. For my part I altogether admit the principle that the explanation gives us, not merely the key to what was originally seen, but additional truth. Only, as I have shown the absurdity is in supposing that the fresh information is something about the past pagan form of Rome. On the contrary it really furnishes the future closing aspect, when the beast and the ten horns have a common policy, first in wreaking their hatred and indulging their avarice on the whore, and then in mustering their forces with one consent for the final conflict with the Lamb. The beast is to ascend from the abyss, and the Lord of lords descend from the throne of God. The chapter gives us character and description, not dates. The history is resumed in Revelation 19, first as to heaven, and next as to earth; Revelation 17, 18 forming a descriptive episode.
A little sample of this, not of course executed by the beast or by the kings, but by the will of the people, appears in the French revolution of the last century. There you had an infuriate people rising up against the woman (the ecclesiastical power that had ruled the earth being completely given up to the rage of the multitude, and men enriching themselves at her expense). But we must never meet one wrong by being guilty of another. The Christian way to deal with evil is ever by grace lifting us above it. Events that have been seen on a small scale will be then realised on a larger one. Good men — men worthy of honour and in other respects wise — have not only desired to get rid of Babylon, but have been too apt to sanction any means with that aim. I say not that saints are not to rejoice in her fall; but that they ought not to mix themselves up with the instruments of it, nor to cherish unfounded hopes of blessing then and thence.
Rome will always be the central city of this corrupt system. "The woman which thou sawest is the great city that hath sway over the kings of the earth" (verse 18). There will, no doubt, be a further development of it before the close; for she who sits as queen has given proof even in our own days that she can invent new doctrines, and boast new miracles, developing wickedness without conscience and with feeble protest, nay, in the midst of all but universal acclamations. And it will be true, I conceive, of Rome, as in all other cases, that before the judgment comes, her cup will be full. It was so with the iniquity of the Amorites, when God judged them. But God will employ the powers of the earth to deal with Babylon. No doubt the kings will think well of themselves for getting rid of such a scandal; but then the means used may be as bad as that evil itself. And what will be the issue? The millennium? Quite the contrary — they will make war with the Lamb. They will not only have got rid of Babylon, but will combine against Christ in the most direct and deadly way. When this day comes man, instead of being any the better for having turned against Babylon, will give all his power to the beast: and, bad as Babylon is, the beast is more openly wicked. Nothing is more hateful to God under the sun than religion, where it is used as a cover for corruption; and this is Babylon. But as for the beast and the false prophet, they will deny God altogether. As we read in the Psalms, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." Babylon is not that wilful rebellious spirit. Therefore, after having destroyed Babylon and eaten her flesh and burnt her with fire, after having enriched themselves at her expense, and having destroyed her, we find that those avenging powers will go to fight with the Lamb; they will set themselves in open opposition to the One of God's choice, the holy and heavenly Sufferer.
"For God hath put in their hearts to do his mind, and to do one mind, and give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God shall be finished" (verse 17). How remarkable it is to observe that thus it is man accomplishing the words of God, when his only thought is that he, in hatred to God, is blotting out the most corrupt sham from the face of the earth! No doubt Babylon will have deserved it; but the kings, without knowing how, are but doing servile work for Him whose authority they disown. In vain they will have had all God's dealings under the law before their eyes; they will have had the whole Christian revelation of grace and holiness, founded on and shown in the cross of Jesus, only to despise it; they will have heard and rejected the latter-day testimony, the gospel of the kingdom, which will be given by other, and I believe by Jewish, witnesses, after the church has been taken to heaven. Anything pretending to be a new testimony, while the church is on earth, must be false. But when the church is gone, God will take up His people Israel again, and will give a testimony, not so much meeting souls so as to put them in connection with Christ in heaven, which He is doing now, but sending out far and wide through the habitable world, as a witness to all nations, the glad tidings that God's King is coming to set up His kingdom; "and then shall the end come."
It is fellowship with Christ as the suffering One which gives us deliverance from the spirit of the beast, the spirit of proud independence. How shall we overcome with the Lamb? We must be with Him, and this is what gives the victory now. Our strength, in whatever comes before us, is to ask, How does the Lord feel touching it? Supposing I am invited to go to some great sight, to join in some movement that may be very attractive naturally, the question is, Does the Lord sympathize with it? Is He there? And if this applies to all other questions, still more does it decide in what concerns the holiest things, as for instance worship. What does the Lord sanction and value in His praise? What is most according to His heart and mind? What really and intelligently and obediently gives Him honour? Such is the sole key for faith in this world; it unlocks many a difficulty, and through the opened door there is a plain path for our feet.
The Lord grant that none of us may put aside those solemn truths! To neglect His warning is the very thing that tends so far to bring about the state of things of which we have been speaking. That which carries away in this direction now is slighting the words of God; though we shall in the end be fulfilling them to our own shame. We shall be proving how little we have known of real heart-subjection to God — how little we had appreciated the grace in which we stand, and how little rejoiced in the hope of His glory. We shall manifest that we have not counted it an honour to bow, and to give up what we may like, or what others might like for us, where it was really a question of God's will. For to us this should decide all; because "we are sanctified unto the obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ," that is, to the same character of obedience which marked the Lord Jesus here below. It is not Christian to obey Christ merely because we must. Christ never obeyed thus. If a man only does a thing because if he does it not he knows he must be punished, it shows plainly that his heart is not in it — he does not want to obey. Christian obedience is the desire of doing a thing because it is the will of God, and the Holy Ghost gives us power through presenting Christ to our affections. Remember that to this we are sanctified. Cleansed by the blood of sprinkling, instead of its being a menace of death, as in Ex. 24, we are sanctified unto the obedience of Jesus Christ. We are not under the law but under grace, and led of the Spirit of God. May we enjoy the power of His spirit and the fulness of His salvation! Bear in mind however, that we are thus saved, not for ourselves, but to obey after the same pattern and measure of obedience as that of Jesus.
I think that the case of Babylon illustrates strikingly how a judgment which is said to be God's may, at the same time, be executed by men. In Rev. 17 we saw that God will make use of the ten horns or kings, into whose dominions the Roman earth, at the close of this dispensation, will be divided, and will give especial prominence to what is called "the beast," that is, the power that gives a bond to those otherwise broken parts. The great imperial chief, and the various separate but no longer independent powers, his vassals, will be the instruments that God will employ for inflicting His judgment upon Babylon.
Now in Revelation 18 not a word of this occurs; and the difference is so obvious and great at first sight, that some have laid it down with decision that the judgment in Revelation 17 is previous to that in chapter 18; that the destruction of Babylon in the former is merely a human one; that her doom in the latter is subsequent and directly from God. But I would not dogmatize as to this explanation, conceiving, on the contrary, that in the same judgment you may have God's and man's side of the matter, God dealing providentially, and men as His hand in striking the blow. If there be a real distinction, the "fall" precedes the final destruction; a total degradation of her state ensues upon the assault of the civil powers, followed by an urgent call to God's people to come out; and then her utter everlasting destruction on the part of God.
If we look at Babylon in the Old Testament, justly did the prophets speak of its destruction as the day of the Lord upon it. "This is the work of Jehovah of Hosts in the land of the Chaldeans." (Jer. 1) At the same time it is quite certain that the medium through which God brought about the ruin of Babylon was the celebrated Cyrus, the leader of the Medo-Persian army. In the same way, in Rev. 17, we see the actual human instruments. The influence of Babylon extended much beyond, but the ten horns of the Roman earth were those powers that radiated as it were from her very centre. And therefore it may be that God mentions in that chapter that these powers which seemed to be so linked with Babylon as her abject slaves (the imperial power itself having been but a beast of burden to her) are to turn round at a certain time appointed by God, and to wreak their vengeance, scorn, and hatred upon her. They have human objects, no doubt, but they are accomplishing this work of God's righteous retribution. God will have put it into their hearts to agree, and give their kingdom to the beast, until His words be consummated.
But in Rev. 18 human instruments disappear, and when this other angel comes down from heaven, he says not a word of those that God had employed as the means of the fall of Babylon; they are left out, and the Lord God it is that judges her. God could just as easily have destroyed Babylon without the ten kings as with them. They were in no way necessary. But it is a part of His government of the earth, if she had reigned over kings and committed fornication with them before, to employ the ten horns to humble her at the end. They might be bad men with bad objects. It is therefore necessary to show the saints distinctly that God is against Babylon. Let us now consider a little this new point of view, in which we have only two parties presented in the scene. There is Babylon upon earth and there is God in heaven; and the Lord God is against the proud queenly city that had been the constant enemy of God and of His people — that had been the instrument of Satan to entice and draw away her victims into an evil alliance and into idolatry. Such is the way Babylon is looked at here. And yet this Babylon is the one that arrogated to herself the place and function of making God known. For the great city is no longer a heathen power: not like Babylon of old, a stranger outside, and used of God as a means of inflicting chastisement on His people Israel. I conceive that the Babylon of Revelation is most clearly a reference to Old Testament Babylon, but applied to New Testament subjects. In the Old Testament, the great thought of God was His people and land: and there was also a city on which His eye rested with special affection. For He not only loved the people, but was interested in what He gave the people. But that has entirely passed away since the rejected Christ was crucified. From that moment till now there has been no one place more holy than another. That which had been the holy city was now as it were Aceldama, the field stained with the blood of the Lord Jesus. But God's eye saw that in process of time the great city of the earth would profess Christ's name, and would take advantage of His own revelation, and out of the corrupted and fallen state of Christianity would make a system of its own — borrowing all that it could take from Judaism, and mingling it with its own Gentile evil, so as thus to work out a system most hateful to God, and seducing to man.
I have no doubt, therefore, that in this chapter it is Rome that is the peculiar object of God's judgment. Not that Rome is all that is meant by Babylon, but that Rome is the centre of it; because it is of all others the most guilty in God's sight. Not Rome in the pagan form; not merely Rome in our own days, bad as it is, and becoming increasingly wicked. But I think that the Babylon of the Apocalypse is not merely that system which is now opposed to Christianity, but Babylon when it will have opposed the last testimony that God will send — this testimony of the Son of man's kingdom that is about to be set up over His beloved people. For God never gives up His purpose. It is part of the character of God never to repent of His gifts and calling. Where it is not a purpose of mercy but a threat, God may and loves to bend. That He does so we know from the case of Nineveh; though the blow was then struck and will be again at some future time. He will allow men to say that He has changed his mind when it is a question of delaying a punishment for sin; but whenever, on the other side, it is God's purpose to bless a people, He never gives up that. This is worthy of God. He is full of mercy. He will allow His prophecy against Nineveh sent through His servant Jonah to appear to be set aside; He does not mind what men say about that. He is quite willing for them to think that He has in mercy changed His mind, and that the sentence of destruction has been set aside, where there has been humbling and repentance before God. But the blessed thing we find is this, that though man's failure, the church's failure, and the like may seem to have jeoparded the blessed purpose that God has in store for His people, and for His own glory, all that is of God comes out only the brighter another day.
Let us look at Babylon in its past history, and consider how that name was suited to express the special evil that was to grow up out of the corruption of Christianity. In Genesis 10 we have the first mention of Babel. And there we have it connected with a wilful man, who had first shown his cunning with regard to brute beasts, and who soon began to turn against his fellows all the craft and experience he had acquired in a lower sphere. Nimrod is the first person with whom you have Babel associated. It is man concentrating power in himself. But in the next chapter (Gen. 11) we have another idea. It is not only one man exalting himself and others subjected to him by fraud or force, but a grand effort of men gathering themselves together to build something permanent and strong and high — a tower that would reach toward heaven, and gain them a name upon earth. Here, then, we have the two thoughts that are always more or less connected with Babylon. It may take the form of an individual who exalts himself, or of men combining for some notable enterprise or it may be a mixture of both principles.
Now this you have further and still more plainly developed, when you come down to the history of the Jewish nation. God called them out as a people, and gave them special privileges and blessings. They fell into idolatry, the sin which sprang from Babylon as its great and primitive source; and Babylon becomes the chief means of judgment for the people of God, and the scene of Judah's captivity. There again we behold Nebuchadnezzar, the golden head of the image, answering to Nimrod, and the great city that he built, which answers to the tower of Babel — the two ideas being united, as indeed they soon became at first; for Babel was the beginning of Nimrod's kingdom. The natural heart covets present exaltation for man on the earth, and this too clothed with a religious sanction, but with an idolatrous intent.
Now the Holy Ghost in the New Testament takes up the term "Babylon" and applies it to the corruption that was to issue in professing Christendom. When God saves souls, He does not allow them to choose their own path in the world; still less can He own their choosing their own path in the church. He who understands his place as belonging to God has his will broken. He is privileged to treat his nature as a dead and evil thing; not on the ground of a slave working for something and because he must, but in the liberty of a son of God — of one who has been blessed by God, and who has the interests of his Father at heart. But it is not his Father's will that at the present time he should meddle with the world, or have a place in it. According to God's mind the world is not good enough for the Christian, because it is practically under the power of the enemy. There is a time coming when the world will be put under the children of God, when they will judge the world. But this can never be until Satan is set aside, and Christ publicly exalted over the earth as well as in heaven. Meanwhile the saints have to wait in faith and patience. And this is the argument which the apostle urges in 1 Cor. 6 why brethren in Christ should have nothing to do with the world's judgments now. It was beneath their dignity as children of God to carry their differences there; it was vain to try to reform the world. Such a thought never entered the apostle's mind. For faith, while it delights in the deliverance of poor sinners, looks at the world with God as already judged, and only waiting for the execution of the sentence at Christ's coming.
But while the apostle exhorts to subjection to the powers that be, he never says, You brethren, that have posts of honour in the earth, you are to continue there. This would have been to defeat the object of God, whose children are not of the world, even as Christ is not of the world. For God is not now undertaking to govern the world, save in His secret providence of course. When the kingdom of this world as a fact becomes His, He begins by judging the corrupters of the earth, and more particularly every iniquity done under the name of Christ. This is not what God does now: He is rather testing the souls of His people in a place of temptation, where everything is contrary to His name. If they are faithful, they will suffer persecution; if unfaithful, they may be made much of by the world. They may have its ease and honour, but they assuredly will be used by Satan to keep all quiet; for nothing furnishes such a sanction to evil as a good man who joins the world and gives it countenance. Remember Lot. He was in the gate of Sodom, the place where justice was administered. His position there was as dishonouring to God as it was miserable to himself. He had to be forced out of it at last; but even before he was taken out of Sodom, the well-watered plains had lost their value in his eyes. Remember also Lot's wife.
His righteous soul was vexed with their unlawful deeds, he himself was the object of their taunts. "This one fellow," said they, "came into sojourn, and he will needs be a judge." They saw the incongruity of his position, as worldly men generally are quick to perceive the failures of the believer. Alas! it is easy to understand how a man may be godly in the main, and yet found in circumstances where a Christian ought not to be, and that so far he is not a true witness for God. Whether I look at the individual Christian or at the church, I see that God's object is to have a testimony to His own glory in the world; to have those who are for Him, not in the way of putting down the world, much less of seeking to get the honour and riches of the world; but willing for Christ's sake to abandon what they liked best, because they look not at the things which are seen, but at the unseen and eternal. This is grace's triumph, and so far as it is true of us, we are real witnesses for God. On the other hand, if we are seeking to gain or retain the world along with Christ, the principle of Babylon is begun.
No doubt, Rev. 17, 18 go much farther than this, and show that a vast religiously corrupting system is meant. This is made very plain by comparing Rev. 17:1, 2, 3, with Rev. 21:9, 10, 11. In Rev. 17:1, it is said, "There came one of the seven angels,. … and talked with me, saying, Come hither; I will show thee the judgment [or sentence] of the great whore, that sitteth by the many waters." But again, in Rev. 21:9, we have another scene. "There came unto me one of the seven angels, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife." Now it is evident that the Holy Ghost uses the same kind of introduction for these two women, for the purpose, I think, of our connecting them together. The same guide, one of the seven-vial angels, takes John, and shows him in the wilderness this earthly and corrupt woman; afterwards, in the closing scene, he takes him to an exceedingly high mountain, and shows him a heavenly one. As the heavenly woman is the symbol of the heavenly church, so is Babylon of a corrupt religious body. It is that which takes the place of the church, and of being the witness for God upon earth, while it carries on every wicked commerce with those who are exalted here below. There is first, as usual, the carnal and earthly, then the spiritual and heavenly. After the false system of men and Satan disappears, the true is displayed in the glory of God.
Now, though we may look for a future development of Babylon, as opposing God's final testimony of the kingdom to all nations before the end come, yet I think that, even at the present moment, there need be no difficulty in judging where the features of Babylon are found most fully. It is a religious system that governs a number of kings, not an establishment that is at the mercy of the secular government. This is sin, but it is not the wickedness spoken of here. Babylon is an incomparably darker, deeper, and more wide-spread system of religious corruption — arrogating to itself the name of the church of God exclusively, setting itself above kings, intriguing with them, but at the same time maintaining its supremacy above them all; stupefying the masses with the poison of her exciting falsehoods: arrayed in all the meretricious splendour of the world; the fountain-head of the worst idolatry under the sun; and finally manifesting a spirit of blood-thirsty persecution against the true saints and witnesses of Jesus, under the usurped pretence of His will and authority. There is one that does claim this place — one that takes it as given by God — one whose seat and centre are found in the very heart of what was once the Roman empire — a religious system that affects universal dominion, and that, in order to accomplish it, either wins by every enticing art, or extinguishes all opposition in the blood of heretics so-called, her victims. "By thy sorceries were all nations deceived. And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth" (verses 23, 24). For any unprejudiced person who reads this description of Babylon calmly, and asks himself, What is that professing Christian body so abounding in idols, so authoritative over the kings of the earth, so indulgent to the wicked, and so cruel to the righteous? it is impossible not to see the answer.*
*The effort of the celebrated and subtle Bossuet to turn aside the application of Babylon in Rev. 17 and 18 from Christianised or Papal Rome is not only weak, but when duly sifted brings out the truth more evidently. His argument is that the church being married to Christ, the guilty church would be an adulteress rather than a harlot. The answer is, not merely that fornication is the generic term, as every one may see in both Old and New Testaments, but that, even applied with the utmost rigour, a harlot most correctly describes the present sin, because the church is now espoused to Christ, not married. The marriage, according to the Apocalypse, is only consummated after Babylon's final judgment in Revelation 19.
As to the Greek and Oriental churches, as to the English, Scotch, and other reformed national establishments, they are more or less notoriously subservient to the government which has to do with each of them. This may be, and I believe is, evil. But there are two ways in which a religious system may act contrary to Christ: either by a guilty subjection to the world, or by a still more guilty supremacy over it — in short, by being the world's slave or the world's mistress. At the present time there is only one religious system which pretends to have kings at its feet; and this is the system of Rome, which therefore answers to Babylon. It is a great mistake to suppose that we have done with it, or that its day is over. Rome may yet have a short-lived triumph. Its emissaries are actively abroad all over the world, and the foundations of Protestantism are being undermined everywhere. Those who are looking for Christianity, as things are, to overthrow all its adversaries on earth, are in my opinion in great danger of being deceived, through the unscriptural hope of getting a church as great or greater in good than that of Rome is in evil. For there will come a fearful struggle yet, and Rome, as I conceive, will seem to acquire vast influence, and to put down every contrary voice, except the feeble whisper of the few witnesses spoken of here, who either die by her or come out of her. God will hear them, but as far as all open or public testimony for Him is concerned, it will be swamped by Babylon. And as to putting Babylon down, it is not by the gospel, or by the force of truth that it will be done, but by the will and wrath of men. Wherever Romanism gains the day, infidelity is the necessary consequence; and, therefore, Babylon always prepares the way for the last effort of the beast against the Lamb. But before the close, the beast gets thoroughly the upper hand, and Babylon becomes food for him and the ten horns.
Is this what is introduced to us here? Man is left out; the ten horns are not once alluded to in Revelation 18, though the kings of the earth are. The difference is this. "In the kings of the earth," I apprehend, are embraced all those rulers of Christendom with whom she had been on terms of bad intimacy, or who had had evil connection with her. The ten horns are the chiefs of the final divided state of the empire and the active instruments of her devastation, as we are told in Revelation 17. The kings of the earth are her mourners, not her burners. Here in chapter 18 her hour is come, and it is the Lord God that hath judged her.
You will observe the voice from heaven here: "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (verse 4). The receiving of her plagues is not the divine motive for separation. Men would be anxious enough about that. But the great thing that God looks for from His people is this — that they should not be partakers of her sins. I would put it to every Christian, how far is he in sympathy with God's mind touching Babylon and its sins? How far does he feel the evil of it, and judge it?
Babylon does not seek heaven, but the earth — not the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow, but to sit as a queen and to see no sorrow. Babylon is content with worldly exaltation. If you steer clear of this, Babylon has no attractions for you; and the present danger of every soul from Babylon is the gradual caring for and allowance in Christians of what man values on the earth. Of late years there has been no little change in the thoughts of Christians as to the present enjoyment of prosperity and pleasure in this world. But there is amazing danger in it. For what is the great thought of it all? Man rising, progressing, exalting himself — man showing what he can do, and how improve; and this is sought to be connected with the name and sanction of Christ! Alas! it is Babylon the great (verses 9-19). In her we see the end of the heart's desire, along with Christ, to enjoy all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. I do not wonder at an unconverted man seeking to make the world pleasant: Cain did it, and there is such a thing now as going in the way of Cain. These are the people that handle all sorts of musical instruments, and the artificers in brass and iron. It is true that these things sprang up in a very early hour of the world, but still the Spirit of God does not tell us for nothing that they were in the family of Cain, not in the family of Seth.
Every child of man stands responsible to God, whether converted or not, to own his outcast state as a sinner: he has no right to drown his conscience in the pleasures and glory of the world. But bad as this may be, the thing that God most hates, and that He will judge in an awful and public manner, even in this world, is the tacking on the name of Christ to the indulgence of worldly lusts. Is it not the desire, even of many Christians, to have the grandeur and riches of the world at their back? I do not doubt that they heartily wish to have people converted, but they would like them to bring their earthly influence along with them. This is the spirit of Babylon. What the Lord looks for from us is doing the will of God, suffering for it, and taking it patiently. Any of these things which the heart covets will be found to involve the will of man. There is not a single position of distinction or of glory in the world but what requires a man to give up a good conscience towards God. In other words, you cannot be a member of the world and act faithfully as a member of Christ. If you value and wish to follow the world, you will make all sorts of excuses, and argue for a compromise; but this only shows how far the leaven of Babylon has affected your soul.
God gathers souls round Jesus — that is, Jesus rejected, and gone up to heaven. Therefore the Church is based on these two fundamental truths. She has got the cross, and she is united to Christ in heavenly glory by the Holy Ghost sent down. And the cross and heavenly glory will not mingle with the world. This is the very thing that puts my heart to the test. If Christ is my object, I shall not want the world; I shall be looking up it may be feebly, but still looking up to heaven; and there will be the one object that God uses to strengthen me by, giving me willingness to suffer in the consciousness of having Christ in the glory. Whenever the church craves after something else, as the esteem and honour of the world, or even social improvement, she denies her proper glory.
Popery mistook the true character of the church, followed the Jewish system, and thought that people ought to bring their gold and silver and precious stones and goodly things to honour the Lord with. (See verses 12-14.) But God was wiser than men, and shows that all this pretence of honouring God is a mere sham, and that what people really want is to honour themselves. They are seeking what attracts and makes them an object of attraction, whilst they cover up their real object under the plea of the name of Christ. This is what God will judge, and what infects the whole of Christendom increasingly before judgment comes. You may ask me how that can be possible, when there are so many societies growing up, and such an active energy, religious and moral, dealing with the various forms of public evil throughout the world. I am not telling you what I see, but what God's word shows — the all but universal prevalence before the close of a corrupt system, which plainly has its centre in Rome, though taking a larger compass, so as to embrace every religious institution* which, however opposed it may seem to Popery now, does not link a soul with heaven. There is no safety for any person who is building on the earth. The heavenly saints will be taken away before the judgment falls upon Babylon. They are not referred to in that word, "Come out of her, my people." This is spoken of God's earthly people† by and by. But at the same time, its principle fully applies. For the essence of Babylon is the union of the world with the name of Christ. "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you."
*Babylon is not only herself "the great harlot," but "the mother of the harlots and the abominations of the earth." There are more of kindred corruptions in religion, though Rome is pre-eminent, "the mother and mistress," as she claims, of others.
†Hence there is no need to adopt Vitringa's odd notion, that verse 6 is addressed to the kings, nor to destroy the distinctive practical calling of the church by supposing that she is to be the avenger of Babylon's wrongs. God's retributive justice will send its more fitting appeal to His people the Jews, who are to be the witnesses of His righteous government here below.
The Lord will not hold any man guiltless who has a conscience of what is due to Christ and does not follow it. To such I would say, this is what you will prove: you will go on for a time and be troubled with the truth, for it will condemn you; but ere long you will find that all taste for it is lost; you will tire of it and even turn against it, and then will become morally ripe for Babylon when it bids seriously for you. If I am guilty of the spirit of Babylon, this is what God looks at, as far as I am concerned. The person who travels in her path cannot but be a partaker of her sin. And who so oppose the truth, as those that corrupt it? Who so hate, as those that are condemned of themselves?
There is a great work, not only of dissolving and breaking up what is old, but uniting and amalgamating for various purposes, going on now; and as this was found in Babylon at the very beginning (Gen. 11), so, in the long run, it will be found to serve the purpose of that great city before the Lord God has for ever judged her.
There will be, I believe from various scriptures, an astonishing mixture of professing Christianity with Judaism: and the latter, as judged by the new and full revelation of Christ in the New Testament, is no better than heathenism. (Gal. 4.) We know how tender the Spirit was in bearing with the weakness, the scruples, the attachment to old religious habits in such of the Christians as had been Jews (Rom. 14); but it was a very different thing when teachers sought to impose Jewish ordinances on the Gentile converts. The same Spirit treated a ritual borrowed by Gentiles from Jews as the same thing in principle as old and open pagan idolatry. "But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements of the world, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years." Popery is the most salient and hateful exhibition of this amalgam now; but greater abominations shall appear. Sacramentalism and rationalism, in these and other Protestant lands, are each provoking the other to excesses previously unexampled. When too was ever known such public indifference, which desires leisure for commerce abroad and social development at home? The result will appear in the last stages of Babylon and the beast.
In the scene before us we have had the lament of kings, merchants, and all who had to do with the unholy traffic of Babylon. Heaven, and especially the "saints" (for so it should be read) and the apostles and the prophets, are called to rejoice at God's judgment: "God hath avenged you [or literally, judged your judgment] on her." In the mighty angel's solemn act and word, which closes the chapter (verses 21-24), not only are set forth the violence of her ruin and its totality, but the reason of it as regards the nations — deceiving them all by her sorceries. The last verse adds another and awful cause — Babylon's inheritance of Jerusalem in blood-guiltiness. "And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth."
The Lord grant that, instead of merely looking without and occupying ourselves with condemning others, we may take good care that our own souls are preserved from the contaminations of Babylon. May our affections be kept true to Himself — the only real guard against the seductions of the enemy! We are espoused as a chaste virgin to Christ. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."