Archdeacon Lee on the Revelation.

1883 252 (The Speaker's Commentary on the New Testament, iv. 405-844. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1881.)

The Archdeacon of Dublin has contributed a more painstaking, full, and elaborate portion than any other to this modern repository of Biblical learning. There is the usual sort of introduction, in which are discussed the authorship of the Revelation, the external evidence east and west, the canon of the New Testament, the date and place of its writing, with the doubt as to the apostolic authorship externally and internally, including language and style, then the text, the modern conception of "Apocalyptik," ideal symbol, symbolic numbers with the interpretation of the book — preterist, historical, futurist and spiritual. In the last class he places Auberlen, Ebrard, Hengstenberg, Hofmann, and there the author appears himself to stand. Thus speaking of Rev. vii. he says, "The result then seems clearly to be that by the sealing of the servants of God no one definite act, to be performed at some one definite point of time, is intended; but that this entire vision represents a continual process of preservation under the trials and persecutions of all times down to the end" (p. 585).

The readers will therefore gather that the so-called "spiritual," or allegorizing school should more properly be styled "the indefinite." The visions on this principle apply to events of similar character ever so often recurring; they are ethical rather than prophetic. The same chapter affords further proof of its utter vagueness. "In fact, the definite number 144,000 — representing 'the sealed' on earth throughout all time — is again represented indefinitely in verse 9, by the 'great multitude which no man could number,' in other words by the Church of the Redeemed in heaven (compare Rev. 5:6 with Rev. xiv. 1, 3: to this effect Origen, Mede, Vitr., Ewald, De Wette, Dollinger, Hengst, Words., Alf., etc. see on Rev. ix. 4," (p. 588). Now the Venerable author admits, as do most of the learned men enumerated, that the elders (verse 11) "are the representatives of the universal church of God" (pp. 551, 554). Is it a reasonable interpretation, then, that in the same scene we should have two (not to say three) wholly different representatives of the same object? Is it credible that a numbered company out of all the tribes of Israel means the innumerable crowd out of every nation, etc.? And where is the congruity of one of the elders "by whom the Church is symbolized," explaining to the prophet what the white-robed ones are, if they are after all only themselves? and how, if they too are the Church, designate them as coming "out of the tribulation the great one"? especially as the Archdeacon here abjures the glosses both of Bengel and of Alford, and rightly limits that tribulation "to the last great trial under the seventh seal as well as to the preparatory tokens of that trial under the sixth seal, Rev. vi. 12-17."

The truth is, that the crowned and enthroned elders do show us the glorified saints both of the Old Testament and of the New, around the throne of God on high — a company complete from the vision in Rev. 4, 5, and never added to throughout the book till they appear for the last time in Rev. xix., when that symbol gives place to the Bride of the Lamb, which again is replaced by the hosts that issue thence (saintly, not angelic, compare verses 8, 14 with Rev. xv. 5) and lastly by the sitters on thrones in Rev. xx. 4. On the other hand the symbolical 144,000 are the numbered remnant of Israel, as the countless crowd consists of Gentiles contradistinguished from those sealed Israelites, yet objects of divine grace, and both wholly distinct from the 144,000 of Judah who are associated with the Lamb on mount Zion. The Archdeacon, like most, confounds things that differ, and does not leave sufficient scope for the various ways of the God of all grace. For He saves not only for heaven as now, but will for the earth also in due time, whether from Israel or from the nations, in view of the end of the age and the terrific judgments which close it but precede or accompany "the day," when the world-kingdom of the Lord and His Anointed is come.

Thus the immense change intimated by Rev. 4 is, as commonly, slurred over; and in fact the value of the vision of the elders etc. is not seen, especially as the church condition is no more spoken of on earth during the strictly prophetic part of the book. Is it possible in such circumstances to have a just or comprehensive view of the prophecy? The vision supposes the translation of the saints, risen or changed, to have taken place: though the book lets us know in subsequent chapters that grace will call afresh some to stiffer by persecution, others to survive and be the nucleus here below under the reign of Christ in power and glory, when the long promised blessedness of the heavens and earth comes in one united and righteously ordered system to the glory of God. The vision of Rev. iv. cannot apply now; for the church wherein the Holy Spirit dwells is still on earth; and the saints of course are not yet glorified in heaven, though those departed are no doubt with Christ waiting. Nor does this chapter contemplate the day of Christ's reign and manifested glory as already come; for lightnings, voices, and thunders issue out of the throne of God, instead of the pure river of water of life as in that day (Rev. xxii. 1.) It is a vision inaugurative of the solemn prophetic interval after the heavenly saints are caught up, and before the day when Jehovah shall punish the host of the high ones on high and the kings of the earth on the earth. Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when Jehovah of hosts shall reign in mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously.

For this reason details also are misapprehended; as for instance the "sea of glass" in Rev. iv. and especially as distinguished from this sea mingled with fire as in Rev. xv. "Glassy" is a mistranslation. The structure of the Greek word points to the material in contrast with water. It was symbolic of fixed purity, not of purifying as now by the word (John xv., Eph. v). The saints in both cases, though otherwise distinct in relationship, time, place and circumstances, were beyond the need of the process. It was done and their course on earth closed. So the force of the critical correction in Rev. 5:9, 10 escapes his vision. After the translation of the christian saints to heaven with those of the Old Testament a new work ensues by grace and others are called whose prayers rise from the earth. For God will have fresh witnesses if the old are gone.

For this reason details also are not infrequently misapprehended; all is vague in the eyes of the learned Archdeacon, who blots out the second advent, where Scripture reveals it (Rev. xix. 11-21, Rev. xvii. 14; 2 Thess. ii. 8, etc.) before the thousand years of Rev. xx., and inserts it after the thousand years, where Scripture proves it cannot be. For the great white throne is not a vision of Christ's coming to judge the quick, but of the dead small and great standing before the throne, after heaven and earth are fled away and no place was found for them. His coming means coming to the earth in glory to judge, where He was rejected in humiliation. Where is the earth to come to, unless He comes before the great white throne is set. For then the first creation is all gone; then takes place judgment outside all; and the new heaven and earth of eternity follow, with the lake of fire for the condemned. Now all Christians own that the Lord will come to judge the quick no less than the dead. But according to this scheme, which denies the literal truth of the first resurrection and the reign of the blessed ones with Christ for a thousand years, no space of time is left for the judgment of the living, whereas Scripture shows it going on in one form or another for the thousand years, the judgment at the end being of the dead exclusively, and these the wicked dead.

Similarly the author is in error when he treats the marriage of the Lamb in Rev. xix. as prophetic. The entire context demonstrates that the consummation of the church's joy then takes place as an actual fact in heaven, after the providential judgments typified by the seals, trumpets and vials, and before the Lord appears in person to sit on His own throne, as He is now on the Father's. Rev. xxi. 2. creates no difficulty as to this, but brings out the further truth, that, after the glorified Church has reigned with Christ for a thousand years over the earth that now is (though in the conditions of the kingdom), when a new heaven and a new earth come in for eternity the church reappears, in the new final and everlasting change for all else, in her bridal beauty as fresh as ever. Still less is there a difficulty in Rev. xxi. 9, Rev. xxii. 5, which is a retrogressive vision to show the relation of the Bride (the Holy and heavenly Jerusalem) to the Lamb, the kings, and the nations, during the kingdom, as Rev. xvii. went back to show the relations of the harlot Babylon the Great to the Beast, the kings and the nations.

But candidly the confusion is extreme; for in p. 781 the Archdeacon tells us that the 'Bride' had already been referred to as under the figure of 'a great number which no man could number' (Rev. vii. 9), — as the 'woman' with the Crown of Stars, (Rev. xii. 1)! as the 144,000 on 'the Mount Zion.' She is the Church of the last days! — the Elect of Israel and of the heathen. She has been ' made ready' in 'the wilderness' (Rev. xii. 6); and having remained faithful in the time of tribulation, the recompense described in ver. 8 awaits her." It would be endless to dwell at length on these errors which are not mere details, but involve the gravest principles of truth. We have already seen as to the countless multitude out of every nation, as well as the sealed out of Israel, expressly and doubly distinct from the Elders who do represent the Church of the firstborn. Again the star-crowned woman in Rev. xii. typifies Israel the mother, not the Church the Bride, of Christ, both again. distinct from the godly Jews attached to the Lamb on Zion and refusing the corruption of Babylon. There is no such thing as the Church of the last days as here said. There is the body of Christ, where is neither Jew nor Greek, but a new creation in union with the glorified Head, as decidedly above Israel as above the Heathen. She will make herself ready in heaven as expressly as Israel will by and by have a place prepared of God in the wilderness during the 1260 days of Satan's efforts through the apostate empire at the end of the age. The church is to be preserved from the hour of trial which is to come on all the habitable world, as she will certainly have full fruition of joy in heaven at this time, and not merely when the millennial reign closes.

In the remarks on this reign the mistakes bristle yet more.  "We are to understand a long, though finite, duration beginning from the First Advent of Christ (1 Cor. xv. 24, 25)" (p. 792). From the first Advent of Christ! And to add to the perplexity, think of referring to the apostle's words which describe the giving up of the kingdom at the closed the millennium when Christ has put all enemies under His feet as a fact! Again what real connection has Luke xi. 21, 22, with Satan's deceiving the nations no more? And should the words be omitted "till the thousand years be fulfilled"? They ought to refute so meagre an interpretation. And how strange to put John xii. 31 over against Rev. xx. 3, and to say "Now? — from the date, that is, of the Incarnation" (p. 793)! or again to range 2 Thess. ii. 3-9 with the end of the thousand years when Satan deceives again. In the same p. 794 Dr. Lee says, "and they sat upon them" that "the subject of the verb is not specified (Rev. x. 11; xii. 6), but the meaning naturally is the 'souls.''' But this is exactly wrong; for the souls follow as a new object on all sound principles of exegesis. He seems indeed lower down to suspect a distinction which neither grammar nor context permits the reader to deny. "If a distinction is to be made between those who 'sat' upon the thrones here and those who 'reigned with Christ' at the end of the verse, the natural subject of the verb would be the representatives of the universal Church — the 'twenty-four Elders.'" This is substantially true, though not very correctly put. The apostle saw thrones, and these filled by sitters on them — the already glorified saints who had followed Christ out of heaven to the judgment of His foes; then he saw the souls of those that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God (see Rev. vi. 9); and, thirdly, such as worshipped not the beast nor his image and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand (see Rev. vi. 11, where the two last classes of sufferers are distinguished as here). Therefore the last clause properly applies to these two, "and they lived" etc. It was needless so to say of those already changed who came with the Lord from heaven. It is, not of these, but of martyrs only that the souls are expressly said to have been now seen. But that "they lived" means their resurrection. What is said of Christ no less applies to them. It is inexcusably false to speak of spiritual life given to the disembodied souls of saints that had died for Christ, for they were spiritually quickened in becoming saints before their martyrdom; and therefore their living now, in order to reigning with Christ a thousand years, can point only to their rising from the dead. And how erroneous to say that John distinguishes two classes here, — (1) The noble army of martyrs; (2) The holy Church throughout all the world: For this last had long been taken, changed, to heaven, and the two classes of slain saints follow who now lived to reign like the first with Christ.

It may be well also to notice how this allegorizing system, in avoiding the plain language of the Holy Spirit, verges on heterodoxy. In handling ver. 4, Dr. Lee, through dislike of taking "the judgment" given to those seated on thrones as descriptive of their judging the world (compare 1 Cor. vi. 2) in the days of the kingdom, actually identifies it with "that moral judgment of humanity spoken of by Christ in John 5:24 — 27, the execution of which is here delegated by Him to His saints as promised in Rev. iii. 21: — see in ver. 12." It is utterly false that the saints were promised, or will have, a part in judging the dead for eternity. The denial of the millennial reign in its true and literal import exposes to this gross departure from divine truth. Matt. xix. 28, 1 Cor. vi. 2, Rev. xx. 4 open a wondrous vista of millennial glory; but no Scripture teaches that the saints are to sit in judgment on the dead. This is the Son of Man's place exclusively.

There are other doctrinal errors of capital moment involved. (1) The "universal" judgment is untrue. For the Lord expressly declares in John 5:24 that the believer, as possessing eternal life in Him, comes not into judgment; which is really to vindicate His honour on those who, not hearing His word or believing Him that sent the Son, must honour the Son of Man by being judged. Compare Heb. ix. 27, 28, for an analogous contrast of "men's" portion with that of saints. It is strange in the face of these and like Scriptures of the surest import to cite Matt. xxv. 31-46, which is expressly the Lord's dealing with "all nations," and of course living men, when He shall come in His glory, which we have seen to be necessarily distinct from the great white throne judgment of the dead. (2) The "general" resurrection is really a general error, in flat contradiction of Scripture which never so speaks but always intimates two special resurrections, as distinct in character as in time; a resurrection of dead both just and unjust (Acts xxiv. 1.5); a resurrection of life, and a resurrection of judgment (John 5:29). And hence, in full accord with other Scriptures, Rev. xx. sets before us the first resurrection of the blessed and holy who reign with Christ a thousand years and more, before "the rest of the dead" then, as well as those who, having died during the reign or afterwards, were caused to stand before the throne, judged each one according to their works, and cast into the lake of fire. "And if any one was not found written in the book of life," he was cast there: not a hint of one who was found so written.

Is it not then singular to hear of "the judgment of condemnation" (p. 805), since judgment of the dead has only this effect? Yet we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God, and we must all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ (Rom. xiv. 10; 2 Cor. 5:10). But neither one nor other is judgment; for this the Lord absolutely denies as we have seen. Every thing done in the body, whether good or bad, will appear and have its consequences. For the believer Christ bore the judgment, the infinite blessing of which grace gives to faith. The unbeliever, rejecting Christ and His atoning work, must bear the judgment himself in all its unspeakable and unending horror. Hence life is in Scripture contrasted, not merely with "condemnation" or "damnation" as in the Authorised Version of John 5, but with "judgment," as in the Revised Version; which could have no proper force if believers come into judgment no less than unbelievers. But the Lord distinctly assures us that the believer does not come there. Hence there is a resurrection "of judgment" for the unbeliever, as "of life" for the believer, the very reverse of a general resurrection and of a common judgment, ancient and popular as these errors may be. The word of the Lord endures forever. Salvation too is contrasted with "judgment," which could not be if all had to pass through judgment, whether saved or not. Faith by grace secures life and salvation, with exemption from the judgment which is for all else; who, despising Christ and living as they like, must thus awfully learn the ruinous evil of unrepentant rebellion against God and trampling on His grace. It could easily be shown how the error tends to weaken justification by faith and to shake peace with God; so that doctrine and experience, and of course walk and worship, are all lowered thereby.

The real wonder, if we did not know the darkening effect of tradition, is that pious men could overlook the broad and deep elements of the case. Babylon, the world-church, is judged: the apostate world-power, or revived Roman empire, summed up in its last head, is consigned to the lake of fire with the false prophet or Antichrist his ally (a destruction distinctly bound up in 2 Thess. ii. with the manifestation of the Lord's presence), the kings of the earth and their armies slain by the word that proceeds out of His mouth. It is His public dealing with men on earth; for He is King of kings and Lord of lords. But He is also Head of all principalities and powers, and so by the medium of an angel He removes from the earth, and restrains from deceiving, the unseen power of evil, Satan, for a thousand years. All this demonstrates a total change for the earth, in contrast with all that appears now, and yet quite distinct from the eternal state. It is not "this present evil age," nor is it "a new heaven and a new earth" after the judgment of the dead before the great white throne. It is "the age to come." or "that age" of which none are accounted worthy to have part (at least on its heavenly side) who are not sons of God, being sons of the resurrection; for (as the Lord intimates) "that age" is inseparable from the resurrection from among the dead, and they can die no more (Luke xx. 35, 36). It is the first resurrection," an age after the present and before eternity, characterised by the rising of (not all but) those that are Christ's at His coming (1 Cor. xv. 23), followed by the reign (not on but) over the earth for the same thousand years during which Satan is shut up. "The end" is only when Christ shall deliver up the kingdom to God even the Father. Between His appearing, then, and "the end" we have here in Rev. xx. the kingdom which He appointed to His own, as His Father to him. It is the reward promised to those who suffer, not exactly for Him as some do, but with Him, as all do that are His. It is a great error to deny this by making it a reign of "principles." The risen saints that suffered with Christ are to reign with Him over the scene of His suffering, priests of God and of Christ, which "principles" could hardly he. It is not the dream for Papists and Protestants, for Anglicans, Presbyterians, Independents, Methodists, and Mormons, of the church reigning now without Christ, where Satan reigns too; but Christ executing judgment, and His risen saints reigning with Him over the earth freed from the power of evil, before the judgment of the dead when "the end" comes, and God (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) is all in all.