In pursuing the present explanation of the Apocalypse, I shall endeavour to give all the light which I may have acquired; but with the fullest acknowledgment, that many parts remain obscure; and explaining, what I judge to be clear, without in all things teaching it as ascertained truth, as in many parts of scripture the Christian ought to do. Further, I shall here consider the whole defined period to be one half-week, not two. The facts and personages, in this point of view, remain unaltered; it is merely the relationships of detail as to time, and the particular force of certain passages which are affected by it. Many treatises have been published viewing the Apocalypse as revealing the distinct events of two half-weeks. The comparison the reader will be enabled to make of the explanation of the book after the two methods will lead to a fuller judgment of the connection of the various parts of it.
Besides the direct blessed witness of God’s love and of personal salvation, there are two subjects which scripture presents to us as a whole; the government of this world, and the church. The latter is now, through the Holy Ghost, the recipient and depository of divine knowledge.20
The church’s portion is heavenly: to be in heaven in spirit now, and when the fulness of times has brought in the accomplishment of God’s purposes; to be there, in fact, associated with Christ in the government of the earth. Her own proper place is the bride and body of Christ. But the church has also an outward and responsible existence on the earth. She ought to be the epistle of Christ, known and read of all men; and to present thus the character of God before the world. In this respect, she is looked at as a responsible dispensation in the world, God’s husbandry, God’s building, where men may build badly, though the foundation may have been well laid. Christ will build His own work, through all phases of the church’s existence; and have the church, as His house, of which He will be the light and glory, perfect in glory. Against this work on earth, or its result in heaven, no power of him who has the empire of death can prevail; but, as intrusted to man’s responsible service on earth, the church stands in the position of a dispensation: to be rejected and cast off, if it does not maintain its faithfulness and manifest the glory intrusted to it. It is like all the various ways and dealings of God with men: sinless man at first, the promises, the law, the priesthood, the Jewish royalty in obedience with the law, Gentile supremacy without any, have respectively been trusted to men; man has failed in them all. All will be set up in grace, in or under Christ. The last Adam will be there (of which the first was but an image), the promises fulfilled, the law written in the heart, priesthood in its excellency made good, Jewish royalty in the Son of David, supremacy over the Gentiles, in Him who shall rise to reign over them. The church—though forming no part of this series of dealings, yet, as the sphere of the manifestation of Christ’s heavenly glory, by man’s faithfulness on the earth, as the house of God, through the Spirit—is subject to the same divine law, first of responsibility in man, failure, and divine accomplishment in grace and power. Local assemblies—candlesticks— come under the same rule. In their normal state, they locally represent the normal state of the church, that which is manifested of Christ’s body on earth; but, as is the case with the general assembly, they may be so corrupt as to require that the candlestick should be removed. There is this difference, that the removal of the candlestick leaves the assembly in general subsisting on the earth; whereas, of course, the closing of the responsibility of the whole assembly removes it as the scene of God’s dealings on earth. Hence, we are sure, that the latter never can take place, till the time for the bride and body of Christ to have a better place in heaven be come also.
The Apocalypse reveals to us Christ as Son of God, or Ancient of days, in His divine title of judgment; and it contemplates the judgment of the assembly, and the judgment of the world, particularly of the last apostate power. In this point of view we must read it, or we shall never understand it. Hence the communications are prophetic in their character. The direct relationships of the Father to His children, and of Christ to His bride and body are not before us; though, at the close, the bride be spoken of in order to identify the city with her. The saints have the consciousness of the grace in which they stand, as also the church at the end of its own relationship; but these are in no way the subject of the book, but distinguish themselves sharply from it. The book is prophetic, because it is occupied with government and the world; and the assembly itself is viewed in its responsibility on earth, in which character it will finally be rejected; not surely as the body of Christ united to the Head in heaven. It is all-important, not only in respect to the Apocalypse but as to truth in general, to enter clearly into this distinction. Without it the church will never be known; as the knowledge of the church, on the other hand, makes it instantly and necessarily felt. All belonging to Christ, save His relationship to the church, is found in the Old Testament; this could not be. All was open, publicly revealed, that concerned Himself. The church could not be. It lay at the foundation of the church’s existence, that the middle wall should be broken down. It lay at the very foundation of the existence of Israel and the law, that it should be kept up. Indeed, the responsibility of the first man would not have been otherwise fully tried. The church, and our relationship to God, repose on the fact, that that responsibility is closed by our being wholly lost, and a wholly new place taken by the second Man risen from the dead; His work being accepted, and thereupon Himself also accepted and glorified, and we in and because of Him.
Our responsibility, even, is of another kind. It is to walk as He walked, not to live up to what Adam ought to have been, or what the law required; but to let this life of Jesus be manifested in our mortal body as dead to sin, the world, and the law; and living in that life which came down in the person of the Son from heaven.
I must, however, add here, that the revelation of the Father by the Son, as dwelling eternally in His bosom, is not to be looked for in the Old Testament. The relationship of son is, doubtless, found therein, so that the thought is not foreign to it; but it is sonship employed in a conventional way (I do not mean, of course, not a true way), or viewed in time, and not founded in the nature of His person in the Godhead, but as a relationship formed on earth. “He shall be to me a Son,” and “I will declare the decree… Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” This is in time on the earth, the glorious and true title and character of Messiah. So, in the passage referred to, “I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son.” “I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.” But in the New Testament we find the Son in His own proper relationship to the Father. “No man hath seen God at any time:21 the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” He has declared, even when on earth, the Father’s name. He came forth from the Father. By the Son, God created all things. He puts us in this relationship of children and sons, adopted no doubt, but by becoming our life. So that life is never said to be in us, though we have it, and are said to have it. But “God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” This leads me to examine, more nearly, the nature and character of the Apocalypse; because it is specially John who brings forward this last point of view, while speaking of the truths connected with our salvation, especially the presence of the Holy Ghost, and, in the Epistle, of propitiation. In his Gospel it is the Son who is come as life, the life being the light of men. In the Epistle this is taken as the ground-work; and the life communicated to us, and its existence tested by its true character to guard us against deceivers. It is remarkable, that, save in a few passages coming in to complete the truth here and there (and they are very few and short), John never sees this life carried up to its ultimate result in the purpose of God; but manifested in this world, whether in Christ Himself or in us. The fact, that we shall go up on high to the Father’s house, is blessedly stated in the beginning of chapter 14, and desired in the end of chapter 17; but it is no where the general subject. Paul, who was born out of due time between the first and second comings of Christ, who knew Christ only in the glory in which He was in heaven (man glorified, the result with God of His accomplished work), who was not to know Christ after the flesh, Paul, who was especially apostle of the church, the minister of the church to complete the word of God, who was converted by the revelation of the heavenly glory, of Christ on one hand, and of the union of the saints with Him so glorified, on the other22—Paul puts us, perfectly accepted, in the glory in Christ, and sees this life in the risen and glorified One, and in us crucified with Him but alive; not “we live, but Christ lives in us.” But John (and hence the exceeding sweetness of the writings he has given to us by the Holy Ghost) presents the divine person of the Son in life (and that in grace in flesh, divine love shewing itself and the Father), in His blessed superiority to evil, and as divine love does, adapting itself to the want and sorrow around it, to everything the human heart could need, yet light all through. We do not get man taken up to heaven, so to speak, in John; but we get God Himself in grace, the Son revealing the Father down on earth. The Gospel and Epistle, as we have seen, reveal this life in itself or in us; but the Gospel (for the Epistle gives us the life between the departure and return of the Lord) gives us at the end a hint of the apostle holding on a testimony to the coming of Christ. He did not say he should not die; but if He would that he tarried till He came. Paul might build the church, or lay its foundation as a wise master-builder; Peter might teach a pilgrim how to follow Him that was risen, and had begotten Him again to a lively hope by it—how to follow his Master through the wilderness, in which, after all, God still governed. These, and others, warn too of coming evils. But he, who was so personally near to Christ (Jewish in his relationships and full of them, but in whose eyes, at the same time as taught of God, [Christ was] a person who was, in Himself, above all relationship, save with the Father, and who had a place in which He could be in the Father’s bosom, yet walk as Man, in the title and manifestation of the Son, upon earth, and withal a place in John’s heart; through grace, which attached him to His person, and life in it); such an one (and such an one was John, the disciple whom Jesus loved) could watch, with the power of divine love, over the departing glories of the church on earth in the energy of a life which could not fail in it. And he could pass on with prophetic vision to establish the rights of the same person (out of and on the part of heaven, yet still) on earth; rights, whose establishment should bring peace on the earth, and set aside the evil, and make these rights good, where the prophet had seen them despised, in One he so loved, as manifested on earth, and connect the excellency of the glorified Sufferer with the blessing of a rescued world, which grace could bless through Him, though it had once rejected Him. The way of bringing about this, with the failing church’s previous history, is what is given us in the Apocalypse, with the prophetically known person and glory of Christ connecting itself, first with the responsible assembly on earth, though then judicially, and then with the earth.
From the beginning of the book we have the revelation given treated as a prophecy. It is a revelation given of God to Christ to shew what must shortly come to pass. The churches themselves thus come in merely as a kind of necessary introduction; their rejection by Christ as to their testimony on earth, as yet the subject of prophecy and warning, was needed for Christ’s assuming the government of the world. Christ sends it by His angel—not exactly an angel, but one who specially represented Himself—to His servant John. He bears record. It is the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, a vision.23 This sentence is important. It is, no doubt, the character, except the being a vision, of all scripture; but it gives us the fact that the present prophecy is the testimony of Jesus, and the suffering in the time of and according to this prophecy is suffering for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. It gives us, moreover, what indeed is evident and cannot be otherwise, but an additional proof of the same, that the prophecy is addressed not to the people of God or saints, as in their normal state, like the epistles, but is a revelation about them to another. In the prophets, those who prophesied when the people were warned carried the word directly from God to the people immediately addressed by Him. So in the epistles, though in another form, the Holy Ghost addressed Himself directly to the saints for their good and instruction. In Daniel it is for the people, but not to them; and even in Zechariah, and in a measure in Habakkuk; so in the Apocalypse. It is something given to John, of course, as all the New Testament, for the church, but not directly to the church in its own natural state.
The church on earth is itself looked at as the subject of prophetic address, and as in relationship with the God of prophecy who governs the world, not with the Father. The Son of man who is Judge walks in the midst of the churches. Grace and peace is wished from Him who is and was and was coming—from the seven Spirits in which the fulness of all His attributes in government is developed, and from Christ as connected with the earth though risen. But the time of the church as such is left out in this greeting of grace, that is, the character of Christ at that time. He is faithful witness; this He was in manifestation on the earth; first-begotten from the dead, He is risen (that, too, on earth not ascended); then prince of the kings of the earth—what He is indeed, now, in title, but one in which the passage springs over from His resurrection to His governmental title when He comes again.24 We have no church relationship; but all that He was, has been, and will be, as to the earth, and what gives Him His right in the kingdom set up in right and power on the earth.
I have no doubt there were these seven churches in the state thus alluded to; and in the language used, we must keep this in mind. But I cannot think that, with this number seven, the character of the addresses, and details of expression, it is possible not to see that a wider sphere of thought is before the apostle’s prophetic eye. But subjects previously spoken of by the apostle call for our attention first. We have Christ in three positions, or characters, in the Apocalypse: walking robed down to His feet in the midst of the candlesticks; the Lamb in the midst of the throne; and Christ coming forth on the white horse (not to speak here of the description of the city, of which He is the light-bearer).
The character of God here is Jehovah, the Ancient of days, who is, and who was, and is the coming One. This is, in fact, the character in which God is revealed, as the One who is to be a great King over all the earth. He was Almighty for Abraham—will be Most High over all that is. But Jehovah is His personal name, in which He takes the rule as One who had counsels and purposes, would fulfil them by His own power, and has given the revelation of it.
As is said in Psalm 83:18, “that men may know that thou, whose name is Jehovah, art the Most High over all the earth.” So Psalms 87 and 91, where the three names are brought together so beautifully and strikingly, when the power of the Almighty is promised to secure him who knew the secret of the Most High, and it is answered (by Messiah) I will take the God of the Jews; “I will say of Jehovah, he is my fortress,” the psalm then going on, speaking in the person of the godly Jew, to celebrate the Tightness of the answer, and Jehovah Himself closing it with His approbation: “Because he has set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him.”
It is in this name that blessing is now wished to the “seven churches which are in Asia.”
Next, we have it wished from “the seven spirits, which are before his throne.” This last word may be remarked. We are in presence of a throne on which Jehovah is, and seven spirits are before it. It is not from the Father, and from the Son, in their communion, and from the divine nature, in its own blessedness, but from Jehovah, the Supreme Governor, upon His throne. And the spirits, as the lamps in the tabernacle, all before the throne. The Spirit itself has His place as the perfect development of governmental power in exercise from God. The spirits are the manifestation and display of this before the throne.
The characters of Christ are also of importance here. I have already spoken of their being in connection with the earth; but there is something more. We have all that was needed to give the rightful place of government over the earth, with which He is here in connection. He is, but much more, He was, the Faithful Witness of God upon the earth. He spoke what He knew; He testified what He had seen. He declared righteousness in the great congregation, did not refrain His lips (that Jehovah knew); at all cost to Himself He bore witness to what God was, made good the witness of it before men. This was an immense service. He made good the perfect witness of light in the world. “While I am in the world I am the light of the world”; and “God is light”; and that in spite of hatred and opposition because of it. So that John had to say, “This is the message which we have heard of him, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” And what He declared He was in manifestation, He was in every sense—a Faithful Witness. When asked what He was, He could reply, In nature and principle what I also say unto you, “Altogether that which I also say to you,” John 8:25. His words were the witness and expression of what He was; and this and its rejection is just the subject of that chapter, and the proof of man’s guilt; they loved darkness.
No doubt His witness was a witness of life in Himself, too; for the life was the light of men; but this remained in abeyance, so to speak, as to its revelation to us, and the part we could have in it till after His death,25 when we have the Spirit, blood and water (which flowed out of His side when slain, as the Spirit came because He went away), as witnesses that God hath given unto us eternal life, and that this life is in His Son. The life was the light, and the light of men, properly of men as such; but except a corn of wheat fell into the ground and died, it remained alone. Hence He was straitened till that baptism was accomplished. And the witness of all this was consequent on His death, a witness about Him rather than by Him. Hence I do not speak of the witness that eternal life is given to us in the Son (that springs out of death, and as to any persons who are such, His servants are, with the Spirit, His witnesses), but of Christ Himself as the Faithful Witness. There is always this necessary difference: as for reconciliation, in 2 Corinthians 5, God was in Christ reconciling; then, Christ being rejected, a ministry is committed to Paul and others, Christ having been made sin for us.
Christ, then, has made good His title as against the world for God and as of God, as the Faithful Witness. It is, when we have eyes to see (that is John 9), an immense blessing to us. Light has come into the world, yea the veil has been rent, and we have the light of God Himself, yea the revelation of God as light (and we are also light in the Lord, He being our life), so as to walk in the light as He is in the light. Oh, that that light may penetrate utterly through us, so that all may be light in communion with Him! Yet this is a great thing to say, but the perfection of the Christian, not to say perhaps attained, but seen and, in the nature given to us, sought after. But there was more. He was a faithful Man; but there was an adversary who had the power of death over man, and ruled the world, and could bring the world against this witness as having the power of death. No doubt in Christ, as the Faithful Witness, he had nothing; but then, if Christ had not subjected Himself to death, He must have remained alone, as we have seen, having gone to heaven with twelve legions of angels, in the right of His own perfectness, but left us out and the world under Satan’s power. But these were not His thoughts, nor the counsel of God, nor suited to His glory: the scriptures had spoken differently, and they (the expression of God’s mind; and what could give them greater authority that this reference to them of the Lord’s?) must be fulfilled. “How, then, shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” Christ Himself, the Son of God, was to die; the scriptures, the witness of God’s mind, the truth, had said it; and He gave Himself, drinking, in blessed obedience and love to His Father, the cup He had given Him to drink. But it is the special side of this which regarded His power and title over the world, and victory over the prince of it, which we are here to consider. Satan committed himself completely in the exercise of this power of death, and dominion over the world; but it was all he had. He was the prince of this world, and it was the hour of darkness. And Christ, in obedience, subjects himself to this last and absolute putting forth of Satan’s whole power over men and in death, a power sustained too by the pronounced judgment of God. But it is with the former we have to do here, though it were nothing without this latter. But the prince of this world was judged. By death Christ brought to nought the power of him who had the power of death. In the resurrection He comes up in that power of life which left no trace of Satan’s power behind. Indeed, according to His trust in Jehovah, no corruption passed upon Him, no moment’s trace of anything that was not the power of the Holy Ghost. He gave Himself up to death, His spirit to His Father, and never saw corruption. In Him, so to speak, resurrection and transmutation were united. In resurrection, according to divine righteousness, He took the condition to which power belonged in grace. He died and rose that He might be Lord both of the dead and the living, being competent and having the title to have all power in heaven and in earth.
In the passage we are considering His ascension is not touched on, but His coming forth from the whole result of Satan’s power through sin, through the work which gave Him the place and power of man in the new estate in which the power of God would place Him. He is the first-begotten from the dead, the Man who has made good, in this final and conclusive conflict, the title of God in spite of sin, and against sin; and baffled all Satan’s apparent success, so that God is perfectly glorified in respect of that in which man has dishonoured Him, and in which, so to speak, to the creature’s view, all that God was, all His moral glory, was brought into question. Christ has taken thus the place divinely prepared for man, the headship of man according to God, the whole question of good and evil having been resolved by His subjugation to the whole power of evil in death (in life He had ever kept it at a distance in the power of the Holy Ghost), and, divine judgment being glorified, made it possible, yea necessary, for God to bring up Him (and, blessed be God! all in Him) into the perfect place of blessing, where divine goodness could have its absolute flow, and that in righteousness—yea as due to Christ, and so to others as redeemed. But here, we take it as the place of power and right, according to God’s counsels, in man. The head of every man is Christ, and He will take all men out of the power of death, and Satan’s power, though for the wicked it will be for judgment. He is the first-begotten from the dead.
Our book treats of the throne, and of the government of the world. Hence the third title of Christ applies to that. He is the Prince of the kings of the earth. This title is so plain, that I do not enlarge upon it. The making it good is, after the letters to the churches, the great subject of the book; first, by God’s power in preparatory dealings, and then by the exercise of Christ’s own power when He comes. We may remark, that so entirely is government the subject of the book, that when the bride itself is mentioned and displayed in glory, it is as a great city, the capital (so to speak) of God’s kingdom.
But here the church breaks in. When Jesus is mentioned, it cannot be otherwise. So at the end of the book (chap. 22:17), and necessarily, in both cases, with the sense and feeling of her own place and blessings in connection with Him. If a general entered in triumph, if a judge was celebrated as the wisest of his race, the wife’s and child’s feelings would be, when it was seen or spoken of— “That is my husband-that is my father.” Such is the necessary effect of the feelings which the consciousness of the relationship gives, and it is beautiful to see. “To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood!” He may be the greatest above all princes of the earth, but that is what He has done for us. His own blood has cleansed us. He may be great, but He loves us. He may be great, but He would have us great with Him, and near Him. “He hath made us kings and priests to God and his Father.” This last is the association with Christ in the royal place He has connected with the earth. It is not children, sons, His bride, but kings and priests; royal, and nearest, under God, to a divine place in government; and nearest in access to Him, when the world is in relationship with God. It is not children at home in the house. It is official glory, though in its highest character and conformed to Christ’s own, for He is King and Priest. The exact words are “a kingdom, priests,” as in Exodus 19, and pretty nearly literally as in the Hebrew. This only confirms the character in which all is seen here. The saints ascribe glory and dominion to Christ for ever.
Here, remark, we have John himself, the Spirit in the name of the saints on earth: “loveth us.” In the following verse the Spirit announces His coming to the world, when every eye shall see Him coming in the clouds of heaven, the Jews too, and all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. All this is closed, I apprehend, by the Amen of God Himself as first and last—Jehovah, Elohim, Shaddai.26 These are the three names I have already noticed, and which are the well-known names of revelation in the Old Testament:27 God, who was revealed to Abraham by His name God Almighty (El Shaddai)—to Moses and Israel as Jehovah. Only He who speaks affirms here, as in the prophets, that as He was at the beginning and the Alpha of all else, so is He the Omega when all is brought to completion by His power, embracing all things and subsisting in Himself, embraced by none. This closes the introduction; and the revelation of the book itself begins in what follows.
In the address of John, we find the same character of relationships, and order of thought as that which we have already seen. We have neither an apostle, nor “he that is of God heareth.” He is a brother and companion in the tribulation, kingdom, and patience of Jesus Christ. His ideas range in the kingdom, and Christ’s waiting for it. Christ sits at God’s right hand, expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. At present His saints are in tribulation. The persecution of John was for that which is found through the book—the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ. All the word is such, but it takes this character when it becomes prophetic. He does not say the gospel, though that is, of course, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. It would not do here at all. He is not teaching among the saints, but alone in the Spirit seeing visions. On the Lord’s day is entirely different, to my mind, from what many take it to mean. It is the lordly day (not the day of the Lord), the Lord’s day of the week, the position in which Christianity set us as risen. And thus, though the apostle’s testimony was prophetic, it was as personally in his risen place he stood when he gives it. This is always true. No prophet now can cease to be a Christian. When he gets out of a christian place, it is false prophecy. His prophecy may have the character which belongs to the subject of prophecy, that is, God’s government of this world; but he is on the Lord’s day. I do not say this in reference to prophecies given now, as if there were actually such, unless they be false ones, but as to the necessary position of one who has been, or should pretend to be, one in christian times. It is not that the prophet was in “the day of the Lord “(at most chapter 19 is such), but on the Lord’s day he was in the Spirit. He then received his commission: “a voice as of a trumpet,” but now speaking on the earth. He does not at this moment see, but hears a voice “behind him.”28
The voice29 tells him to write what he saw in a book, and to send it to the seven churches in Asia. He turns to see who speaks to him, and sees, first, seven golden candlesticks, which was the substantive object of the vision; but, for the moment, his attention is attracted to another object. In the midst of the seven golden candlesticks he sees One standing like the Son of man. Here we have the vessel of responsibility for light on earth, corresponding to the unfolding of power in government above. The seven spirits were before the throne; and, later, we find them as eyes in the horns of the Lamb. Here we have seven candlesticks which should give light by one Spirit on the earth. It is not the unity of the body of Christ: this is perfect, and belongs to heaven. It is the responsible vessel of light on the earth, of the state of which, as we shall see, Christ judges. Here is the key to the apprehension of this part of the revelation. God’s throne carries on all secretly, and in the time of this book in revealed ways and power according to the sevenfold excellency of the Spirit— Christ, too, as taking the kingdom. The candlesticks are vessels of light. Do they give it?
Nor is it here Christ interceding for the weakness of individual saints on earth, nor representing them before God or the Father. He is standing with no garments of service (He is clothed to the feet) but taking cognizance of their state. Next, though the details are important, He is the Ancient of days. It is remarkable how we are brought ever into millennial connections, kingdom associations: I do not say, millennial times. That is only at the end—and Daniel, with whose prophecy this so closely connects us, is never in millennial times, but he is always in millennial connections, only in the times of the Gentiles which precede them—and then the judgment. We have Christ’s character here, not His going about amongst the candlesticks. He stand there. That is His place; and His character is such and such. The prophet sees one who answers to the idea of Son of man. It is not, I apprehend, any personal acquaintance of John with the Lord as an individual, but he sees one in the character of Son of man: and He is, as I have said, not in service with His loins girded, but His garments down to the foot. He is at ease with power to judge; girt under the breast with divine righteousness. Then we find Him, just as in Daniel 7, to be the Ancient of days. But further, His eyes are the all-seeing, piercing, power of judgment; His feet, the firmness and perfectness of divine judgment as applied to men according to God’s glory; His voice as the overwhelming sound of majesty, out of the reach of man’s power. He held in His hand all subordinate authorities, who represented Him in light in the church, and the word as judging men’s hearts and intentions; His countenance witnessed supreme sovereign glory.
There is a threefold expression of character and dignity here. Firstly, the garment, girdle, and the hair of His head apply to His person and personal state. Secondly, His eyes, feet, and voice; what He is in divine judgment and majesty towards man. Thirdly, His official authority and glory as man: the stars, the sword out of His mouth, and countenance like the sun.
Let the reader remark this character and various glory of Christ here. The apostle—and this also is man in flesh before the glory, characteristic of visional prophecy—falls at His feet as dead. The reply is the fortifying witness—not of an angel-messenger, as in Daniel—but of the prophet’s well-known Lord and Saviour, strength for them that are His, in Him that has overcome. He laid His right hand on him, saying, “Fear not,” It is not peace, but dealing with man on earth, as when Jesus was on earth, only that now He possesses the dominion. “I am the first and the last.” It is still the Jehovah of the Old Testament, but more, the Living One. But this is not all; He has the victory over the prince of evil and weakness. “I was dead, and am alive for evermore.” It is Jehovah; but it is man victorious over all the evil and death itself into which man had fallen; and He held the place of victory for ever. And not only was He in His person victorious, but He held the power over what had been the sphere of the enemy’s—death and hades. No angel could have said this to Daniel. Power—power that had wrought deliverance—was there; power superior to all that the enemy could do; and a power which John knew and now felt to sustain him, and make sure the blessing which God’s will purposed to bring in, before the evils and sorrows and trials of the saints came before his mind.
The prophet then receives his commission. There are three classes of things which he is to write. “What thou hast seen”; “the things that are”; and “the things that shall be hereafter”: but the two first are closely united together— “the things which thou hast seen”; and “the things that are”; then what is to come afterwards. He had seen Christ standing in the midst of the candlesticks. That was not “the things that are”; but the developed state of the candlesticks is so, and Christ’s judgment as walking among them; so that the connection is very close. Besides, this was connected with Christ as John had now seen Him, and as he knew Him himself: not the highest knowledge of Him, but a present one—the church on earth; not properly prophetic, that is, entering into the direct government of the world, though it might, as moral threatening, foretell many things as to the church. Still all here was “things that are,” belonging to the church period and state, though to the outward form of it. It has been remarked, that “the things which are” is plural; and “the things that shall be hereafter,” singular. This is quite in place here: “the things that are” in detail before the prophet’s mind here; the future, yet distant, as one short whole.
It may be well to notice here the use made of the characteristics of Christ in the churches, as confirming the interpretation of them. The first two give the state He was in as Son of man generally; the second that He is the Ancient of days. Neither of these is specifically used; nor is the sound of many waters, which is also personal greatness and majesty, nor His countenance as thus seen, shewing in its strength the vastness of His divine majesty, beyond man’s reach and control, and His personal supremacy as man. Thost applied are His eyes as flames of fire, His feet like burnished brass, His sharp sword out of His mouth, in His right hand seven stars, and His reply to John when he fell down—the relative qualities, so to speak, chiefly in judgment, but also in sustaining power. We shall see that they are all employed in the first four churches, and none, save His title over the seven stars, found in the three last.30
The angels stand as moral representatives of the churches. They are addressed—not the letter sent by them—and they are owned of Christ. They are stars (that is, subordinate authority, but in the character of heavenly light and order in the darkness) in His hand; so that we must see that which should stand as a representative authority before Christ, and in His hand. But the church is that which is judged, and, as has been remarked by another, whenever judgment is threatened,31 it is not on the angel; it is, in fact, on the church, or a guilty part of it. The angels stand, therefore, as the accepted representatives of the churches. Both they and the churches are seen in the mind of Christ and of God. The stars are in Christ’s right hand, and the candlesticks are golden. Both are looked at abstractedly. The candlestick may be moved out of its place; but, in God’s mind, it is a golden candlestick of which He speaks.
So the star is that which has the authority of Christ in the church, and stands before Him as representing it, but cannot be separated, in idea, from the church itself. I say this, because I find “Thou hast left thy first love.” Who? the angel: so it is said; but surely the church as such. Yet it is “thy candlestick,” that is, its public acknowledged status before the world as light-bearer. So that what the ear that can hear is to hear is what is said to the churches, but all is said to the angel. So to Smyrna, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; Satan shall cast of you,” etc. Similar things are found in Thyatira. So in Pergamos, “Antipas was slain among you.” Indeed, it is impossible to read the epistles to the churches without seeing that the angel and the churches are identified; only that the angel is looked at abstractedly in its representative character, the churches dealt with in their actual state, and as composed of individuals. The whole body is responsible, and dealt with in detail of judgment; but Christ looks at the ideal responsible personage: a thought which will be in fact realised by every one that hears His words. An individual may be in this, if he be the intelligent vessel of Christ’s mind, in the midst of an assembly; so all those who are so. But the assembly is responsible, and all that hear Christ’s warning.
The history given to us is the moral state of the church, and applicable to every assembly; and, indeed, to every Christian at all times, according to spiritual wisdom in application. This state I shall refer to, and it will, as a consequence, give its historical application in the succession of churches. The first has left its first love; the last is to be spued out of Christ’s mouth. They follow thus:—
(1) Ephesus: the church has left its first love, and if it does not repent will be removed out of its place. (2) Smyrna: it is persecuted. Those who pretend to be the ancient people of God are specially in view. (3) Pergamos: martyrdom has been going on, and the church is there where Satan’s throne is— the world which has thus persecuted. But corruption of doctrine and practice is beginning within, particularly in associating with the world. (4) Thyatira: we find devotedness and labour, but withal, on the other side, along with it, a sad state of things—Jezebel, who not only seduces as Balaam, to mix the world with Christianity, but commits adultery, and begets children. The evil is active and fruitful in its own way. This reaches to the end; and the Lord’s coming is the resource of faith. Judgment will be special and terrible. (5) In Sardis we find a name to live, but death; and, if repentance does not come in, its judgment, just as the outward world. (6) In Philadelphia is little strength, but faithfulness to the word, and the patience of Christ. These are encouraged by Christ’s speedy coming, and will escape the hour of temptation which will come on all the earth. (7) Laodicea is to be spued out of Christ’s mouth as nauseous, being neither cold nor hot; yet warning is given.
These are “the things that are.” I have no doubt that in the Revelation, as in all New Testament prophecy, while the prophecy, properly speaking, takes up the close, when God begins again to interfere directly with the government of the earth, or at least to prepare the way for it, what is analogous in spirit is viewed by the Spirit of God as a matter of His instruction and warning. There is Babylon, and what is unmistakeably Babylonish, before it is fully revealed. There is Antichrist; and yet many antichrists, the “power of the antichrist,” 1 John 4:3; of whom we have heard; and, as Jude presents it, the manifestation in apostolic days of those of whom Enoch spoke, who are to be judged at Christ’s coming. Barriers would be taken away which hindered the public manifestation of the wicked one; but the mystery of wickedness was already at work, and how has it ripened since! This is an undoubtedly scriptural principle, and I have no doubt it applies to the Apocalypse. We may take the churches as the then state of the province of Asia, a picture of the general state—specimens or samples of all—and God’s history of the world thenceforth unto the end; or we may take the things really signified, and the prophetic part, as God’s history at the close of things.
In chapter 12, where a new part of the book begins, the prophetic character is absolutely according to the form of Old Testament prophecy, Israel coming symbolically directly in scene. Christ’s first coming, as in Isaiah 8:10, is directly associated with His second. The man-child is born, the church has been taken up in Him, and the last close is then there. Analogies may be found in what follows, and identification with subsisting elements under other forms, as Babylon; but the history is the history of the end.
I return to the churches most rich in moral instruction and warnings; but have, however imperfectly, treated of this elsewhere. I now turn rather to interpretation as more immediately in place.
In Ephesus the Lord appears entirely in His general relationship to the responsible church. He holds seven stars in His right hand, has the authoritative control of all in power, and is occupied with the inspection of all. He walks about among the golden candlesticks. The failure of the church is also seen in its first principle, not in consequent details. The judgment is the general and absolute one, if repentance do not come in. The result of overcoming, also, is the general one of eating of the tree of life in God’s paradise. This general character of the first church, its statement of general principles in every respect, is a strong confirmation of the successional character of the churches. It is much commended; but oh how weighty a notice for all! It had left its first love. The measure of self-judgment is its first estate. It is not a fallen church awakened up to Christ’s coming, and by it; but a falling church reminded of its first planting in blessing. In the responsible church individual responsibility comes in. He that has an ear is to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The promise is the calm and peaceful one, belonging to a walk with God, of full enjoyment of the ripened fruit which belongs to His paradise—not a special one in special danger.
In Smyrna trial sets in, the natural conservative consequence, under God’s hand, of growing cold; and the natural portion of the saints, too, yet often not coming till coldness begins, as God holds the first planting safe. But it is measured. The pretension of those who set up to have a hereditary title to be God’s people is the commonest feature of persecution, and the church is in a very low and despised state in such. Of the rest men durst not join them. But it is rich. Hence of them, the angel representing the church, as we have seen, would be cast into prison. God permitted, though He measured, the persecution. Did death ensue, the crown of life would follow it. Overcoming, may our souls remember it is still, and always, the path. They that did would not be touched by the second death: of the first they might. Here Christ—as Satan seemed to have power against and above the church—is presented in a divine character, “first and last,” and in evident special application to the circumstances he had been in—dead, and had lived again. He did not put His people through what He had not gone through Himself before them. He would assure them, in that path, of divine perpetuity and of life through death.
In Pergamos He has the sharp two-edged sword. Here worldliness comes, when the first love had already waxed cold, and when persecution was over, and a hostile world had ceased to drive the church from itself, and force a difference on the church, though not always driven it into its own place—into those joys and hopes which were its own. The motives, the thoughts and intents of the heart came under the searchingness of God’s word in Christ’s hand. The church found itself now in the public place of the world. Not a first action of the Spirit in living beauty, but unnoticed out of its little sphere of testimony; not a Gentile persecution, stirred up because it jostled old prejudices in its progress. It dwelt now, had a position and standing, in the world, of which Satan was the prince—where his throne was. “Your fleets and armies are filled with us,” says Tertullian. “If we leave your cities the empire will become a desert.” Could Peter and Paul have said that, or those who were of one heart and one mind? It was another kind of testimony, not a first love. It had grown to this, in spite of martyrdom through Gentile persecutions. Then it had stood firm and weathered the storm. Now Christ’s sword, not Nero’s must be applied. Inward corruption, the seduction to association with the world, and to lead those who bore Christ’s name to go in the public path of the world, away from God, when, as an enemy it could not curse and destroy them—this was now the danger—more than the danger. It was going on, and corrupt practice was taught; deeds Christ hated had become a doctrine. The Lord would interfere if they did not repent, and apply His own judicial power within the church, giving His word judicial action in their midst, against those who sinned, no doubt, but so as to act on the conscience of all. It was His coming to the church in judgment though; His war, by the sword of His word, was made on the guilty. The word, despised as instruction and warning and correction, becomes judgment in the power of Christ. He is Son over His own house. But if the sword distinguishes in judgment, faith does in receiving the warning and word in the heart, and receives its reward according to this spiritual faithfulness. That word, which would come judicially to distinguish and sever in the church, wrought in the heart of the faithful; and the spirit and character of Christ was distinctively realised, and communion with Him in His separate path on earth enjoyed. To this the promise answers: they would have the hidden manna to eat; that is, Christ as known in His walk down here, though now in glory—the corn of that heavenly land. The hidden manna was not the daily manna, but the manna which had been laid up in the ark and kept as a witness in Canaan. They would have the distinguishing white stone of Christ’s own approbation, and on it a name, a term of relationship with Him in this approbation which they only would know.
We now come, in Thyatira, to the general public state of the corrupt church, yet accompanied by long and unwearied devotedness. Christ, as we see His servant Paul ever doing, first notices all the good He can. The saints have done the same when their hearts were right with God. How have the sorrows and sufferings and labour and painful devotedness of the hunted but persevering witnesses in the dark ages occupied the mind and feelings of thoughtful Christians! Nowhere, perhaps, is there a more deeply interesting story; nowhere longer and more unwearied patience; nowhere truer, or perhaps so true, hearts for the truth and for Christ, and for faithfulness to Him against a corrupt church, as in the saints of the middle ages. Through toil and labour, hunted and punished in spite of it, by a system far more persevering, far better organised, than heathen persecutions, violent as for a time they surely were; with no fresh miraculous revelation, or publicly sustaining body, or profession of the church at large, clothed with universal acknowledgment as such, to give them confidence; with every name of ignominy that people or priest could invent to hunt them with, they pursued their hemmed but never abandoned way, with divinely given constancy, and maintained the testimony of God, and the promised existence of the church against the gates of hades, at the cost of rest and home and life and all things earth could give or nature feel. And Christ had foreseen and had not forgotten it. Weakness may have been there, ignorance have marked many of their thoughts, Satan may have sought to mix up mischief with the good, and sometimes succeeded; and men, at their ease now, delight in finding the feeble or faulty spot, and perhaps succeed too; but their record is on high, and their Saviour’s approbation will shine forth, when the books ease-loving questioners have written on them will be as dust on the moth’s wing when it is dead; and shame, if shame can be where we trust many of them may meet those they have despised, cover their face. This the Lord owns in Thyatira. It made no part of the church for men then. It makes none for many wise people now. It is the first part for Christ. And here we have a larger scene, a general condition going on to the end.
I do not think at all that this refers, as some have thought, to the principle of works as found in popery. Verse 19 speaks of what is approved of; verse 20, of what is disapproved of. We have now one who takes the woman’s place, symbolical of a state; not individual responsible activity, but a state, as long ago remarked in the types of the Old Testament. I do not think it matters much if it reads “thy wife Jezebel” or not,32 as the name is moral and the wife of the mystic representative must be the public general state. But those who were morally responsible, as actively representing Christ in the church, suffered this state of things. It had grown into a settled system. She pretended to express the mind of God, to be the authorised expounder of His mind, having the Spirit; and she deceived, and taught Christ’s servants to go on in woridliness and corruption. It was not seducing them when the seducer was separate from the body, putting a stumbling-block before them. It was an allowed state; all let to go regularly on. Corruption and idolatry in woridliness characterised the state. This had gone on long. It is looked at as the thing with which God was dealing. He had given her time to repent; and she would not repent of her fornication; she was teaching it, but she was committing it. It characterised the public state of the outward church. She would not repent. It was the present state. “I have given her … and she will not.” If those who were committing it with her (all who entered into the spirit of her ways, and carried them on with her) did not repent, they would be cast into great tribulation. And her children—those whom she had begotten and formed in these principles God would destroy, and would be known as the Searcher of hearts and Judge. I do not take this as necessarily the judgment of Babylon as such farther on, but the application of God’s judgment to all the religious part of it; though the scene be substantially the same. The character of Christ here given (the reader may see, I believe, justly given) in what precedes, the all-seeing piercing power of judgment, and the firmness and perfectness of divine judgment as applied to men according to God’s glory. “He that hath an ear” is here first seen apart from the general body of the church, contemplated apart. Up to this, “he that hath an ear to hear” comes before the promises to them that overcome; here after.
When the state—the woman—is the thing to be dealt with in judgment, the ear to hear is not associated in God’s mind in the same way with that which is judged. The prolonged state of the professing church is looked at here. It is not, as at Ephesus, the general idea, “I come quickly, and remove the candlestick,” because it does not exactly answer His mind, and He expected it. This supposes, in a certain sense, confidence that all will be exactly as it ought to be: otherwise the relationship ceases. Here, as to the public state, all was very bad, though there was personal devotedness. And God, the One going to judge it definitely as bad, and as an object of judgment, has long patience. Abraham must go down, or his children, to Egypt, for the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full. Moses He was going to kill, because Eliezer was not circumcised. This is God’s way; jealous when He admits to confidence; infinite in patience when He must take His character of Judge. Here He is Judge—He gives to every one according to his works. How solemn a thing it is, when the public professing body of the church becomes the direct object of God’s judgment!
In verse 24, “to you,33 the rest in Thyatira,” that is, those who had nothing to do with Jezebel and her ways, her doctrine, who held the church—the woman—to be (no prophetess, but) apart from the world, and pure for Christ; they had but to be faithful to this. God did not expect from them in this darkness, the light of other days. Only they must hold fast what they had. Remark here, they were only a numbered and distinct “rest.”; confirming the idea that Jezebel represents the public state. Not knowing the depths of Satan, that is, what they called so, I apprehend to be plain morality and separation from the world. They indulged in corruption and idolatry; it characterised them—pretending to see a liberty which their acquaintance with the depth of Satan’s wiles gave them; and pretending to look on the others as seduced by the deep wiles of Satan, to hold aloof from the church’s path, from what God owned on the earth, and where He had placed His Spirit and word, for all this Jezebel pretended to. They said, that “the rest “did not know the depths of Satan, in making them think outward morality and holiness was called for in the church. So the true saints got the character of being led of Satan; and the instruments of Satan, that of possessing the word and Spirit of God. They were to keep Christ’s works: that was the depth of truth at any rate. Knowledge they had little of, even in respect of justification by faith. The saints of that day were very ignorant.
George, who began the practical separation in Bohemia and Moravia, after the fall of the Hussites, began with morality, knew nothing of justification by faith as to clearness of doctrine. It was introduced later among them, and through much opposition, and alas! through the Lutherans with great relaxation of practice.
So with the Waldenses; practice was their great theme. And this was in its place according to God. Not that the truth was mighty as afterwards to deliver countries; but conscience was found in those holding Christ as the one foundation, which, through grace, made them suffer and live for Him.
The promises here are important. They are not simply special promises for those faithful within, though suited to them; but the whole scene of promise and millennial glory to come, as belonging to the whole church. This is notable and connects itself with the view we have taken of the passage, as presenting the whole public state of the church in which corruption had become the mother of children, and its public state.
The Greek church comes little in scene here, though partaking of much of the corruption, because it did not stand before the eye of prophecy (as it has not been, in fact), as that which represented the church in the world. No doubt the accession of Russia has given a large population and importance to it. But this is quite modern; and all the East was overrun with Saracens and then Turks, in a word, with Mahommedans; and these stood in God’s eye as holding the population there—the world’s religion; and the Western system as that which was the church before the world. So, we know, it has historically been.
The promises given to the church are the power of the kingdom, but, besides that, Christ Himself. This is so simple and distinct, that what is called for is not interpretation but spiritual understanding. Only remark, that the subject here is not Christ’s universal power over all things, but over the nations. It is the rule of the world, when the outward church has been the world and falsely “reigned as kings,” falsely set up the millennial reign, and faithfulness has caused suffering; and Christ Himself, as the world will never see Him or know Him, as the Morning Star. As Sun He will reign over the world; as Morning Star, He belongs to faith alone, and is never seen by the world. As Sun, the saints will be seen with Him; as the Morning Star, they will see and enjoy Him themselves. Thus, both answer to the trial of the saints in the church; though it is the general glory of the church— all glory, save indeed as Christ is over all things, and such to the church His body. Here it is the world. The promise of Psalm 2 made to Christ as Son of God is conferred on the overcomers. But, besides that, there is the proper christian privilege. That which the watching eye, he who watches in the night sees, when the sleeping world enjoys itself and sees nothing, to be awakened by sudden judgment as a thief in the night—the Morning Star which Christ declares Himself in this book to be—that is given. Christ Himself thus known, known to the heart in the trial and difficulty of faithfulness, is given to him that overcomes.
The reader will remark, that this church professedly continues on to the end. Here first the coming of Christ is introduced. In fact, the others were passing states of the church. Here God’s loving patience waited, and the saints were called to hold fast what they had to the end, till Christ came.
As a distinct form of existence, the Jezebel character marked it, when there was nothing else. It is the state before God’s eye without as yet any other (the three last churches were not yet come up before Him), and to this state the instruction directly applies. But, in a secondary way, the fact that such a state of things would continue comes out, as the saints are called to hold fast till Christ comes, and the promises are directly and openly the church’s at Christ’s coming.
The church of Sardis presents Christ to us in a striking manner. He is in the very fulness of His power in respect of His relationship to the church—the fulness of power in government—the fulness of spiritual energy to work. He has this; but it is merely the fact. The stars are not seen in His right hand. It is not the regular formed order in its right place, but all spiritual power of working not mentioned in His relationship to the churches, nor what had been seen in the things that were (chap. 1:13-20).
But although thus far seen in a general character, and not a special one, Christ is not presented here as walking in the midst of the candlesticks. I do not mean that Christ had ceased to do it; but He is not so presented here. He is the source of all spiritual power, the possessor of all spiritual authority; all that actively represents Him on the earth belongs to Him, But the previously existing relationship is not expressed.
It is further to be remarked, that the seven Spirits of God belong to the comprehensive qualities and power of the Spirit in connection with bringing about God’s will, not the Holy Ghost dwelling in the church: of this we have nothing here. The seven Spirits are seen before God’s throne, and they are seen as eyes in the Lamb. We have got into new characteristics of Christ, in reference to His own power and rights, not what was already revealed of Him as walking amongst the candlesticks. His coming has been announced, and the outward successional church followed to the end. It was a system wholly corrupt, a mere Jezebel, a mother and source of wickedness. The Spirit now takes up Christ’s personal character and rights, and, in this respect, looks out beyond church-scenes.
The story of Sardis is soon told. We have no corrupt state, though there was much personal individual evil. On the contrary, there was the reputation of a moral activity which, had delivered from evil—a name to live. But the real character of the church was a state of death. And here remark, that the work of the Holy Ghost is itself not, and cannot be, the object of judgment, This is evident. God does not judge His own working; nor Christ, the Spirit’s. It is the result in man’s hands. Thus the work which produced Protestantism was God’s work, the action of His Spirit; the result is the use man has made of this blessing. Some things remained; and they were exhorted to strengthen them, for they were ready to die. The Lord had not found their works complete. There was something failing—lacking. It had man much in it. Christ had not found them complete before His God.34 It was not anything corrupt or superstitious exactly, but wanting in their character and motive. Activity, but not such as met the relationship of Christ with God on the earth; they were not Christian enough. Yet they had received much, and were to remember this, hold fast, and repent. If the church did not watch—this was the great point—they had got into the ease of the world, and were living as if things were settled, and to go on for ever; it was not corruption and superstition, but deadness and worldliness; if they did not wake up and watch, they would be treated as the world. Christ would come on them as a thief in the night, and they would not know when.
I have remarked elsewhere the extreme importance of this threat. Because it is directly declared in 1 Thessalonians 5 that those whom the Lord owns as Christians would not be so treated; “Ye are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief.” And they are exhorted to watch. But on the world that day would come unawares, as travail on a woman with child. The professing church, in its Sardis state, would be treated as the world if it did not watch. Not only is the judgment most solemn, but it shews that the spiritual judgment, that professing Christianity in this state is (morally speaking) the world in God’s sight, is just. And note, here, that if we connect (as we should) 1 Thessalonians 5:1, with chapter 4:14, this judgment will take place when the saints come with Jesus. Protestantism, for such I doubt not it is, sad as the thought may be, will be found and judged as the world at Christ’s coming with the saints. It is not terrible tribulation and special judgment as with Thyatira, but found to be the world. Here, too, the true saints are treated as a remnant. “Thou hast a few names in Sardis who have not denied their garments.” They had practical christian walk. The white linen is the righteousness of the saints. “They shall walk with me in white.” The church’s works were not complete before Christ’s God. There was a lack of what was properly Christian in them. Those who kept themselves in their walk as Christians would walk with Him in white. The same is repeated to him that overcomes, with the addition that he would not be struck out of the registers of God’s people. When the once nominal church was treated as the world in judgment, it would not be even in the register. All professing Christians are, and in that sense, in the book of life. They have not life, surely, unless born of God, but they all stand on the public registry of life; a Jew, a Mahommedan, an open apostate, does not. When the saints were gone, and the nominal body visited as the world, that would have no real meaning, perhaps no nominal existence. The saint, faithful while it went on, would not lose his place on the register. Christ would confess his name as really His before His Father, and before His Father’s angels. Here we have the saints very definitely individualised as to Christ’s owning them, and in contrast with the professing church judged as the world below, confessed by Christ above in the presence of His Father and His angels. The warning to hear, as in Thyatira, comes after this distinction.
The church of Philadelphia is the rich and unqualified encouragement of that which was feeble but faithful. There is little church-character, I may say none. All is a statement of what Christ is and will be for them; only that they have the comfort of knowing that Christ has fully taken cognizance of their state, and that, satisfied of this, they are to go on, encouraged by His own grace. “I know thy works.” This is all that is said. This character of the address to Philadelphia is very remarkable. The church, the saints, have to think of Christ, not of themselves. Faithfulness to Him, however, is noticed. His word had been kept, His name not denied, the word of His patience also kept, that is, of the way in which He awaits the time of His glory and power, through the long-protracted evil of the professing church, in the accomplishment of God’s ways.
In this also they are specially associated with Christ. This association characterises all the promises made to him that overcomes also. Hence what Christ is personally with respect to such relationship, and His availableness, so to speak, for those seeking so to walk, is presented in the revelation of Him. He is “holy.” This character must now specially be responded to. It is individual conformity (though in the common body and walk of all) to Him that is looked for in this near personal relationship. He is “true,” the one who is truthful in all; the true Son of God, the truthful revelation of what He is, and we are sanctified by the truth; true in His word, so that it can be counted on. But “true” especially here refers to the power of the truth, but the truth seen in Christ’s nature and person, and so known to us. “Sanctify them through thy truth; Thy word is truth … and for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.” So is He the Holy and the True One; and it is especially where all has failed, that this character of Christ has its application, but a people are yet called to be faithful in special connection with Him.
So it is in John’s Gospel, as regards Christ Himself in the midst of Israel; and in his Epistle, where seducers were leading men astray, and piety became individualised. Not, of course, as if brotherly love and union were not to exist, but that personal adhesion to Christ, the Holy and True One, was needed for it. Out of twenty-six times the word true is used, it is used twenty-one times by John, as a kindred word is sixteen times out of twenty-five. It is the personal character of Christ separated to God from all evil, and the true and living expression of all that He presented Himself as; as that manifested also the nature of all that was not it.
The next point is that He has the authority of the house and government to which, as Christ, He has a title, “and openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth” —an important word in present service. So to Him the porter opened. No human power, nor Satan’s either, could hinder it. So now for those who hold fast to Him. And He had set an open door before them, and no man could shut it. But little strength they had, but (with the door open) if there was faithfulness, the service was easy. This, “Thou hast a little strength,” is real approbation. There was not Pauline energy, nor God mighty in any one as in Peter. Not the energy that led to martyrdom, or brought kingdoms under its sway; but love to Christ and His word, that gave desire for the good of souls, and His being known, He was held to—had authority over the heart. Hence, there was a little strength: a great thing where all was loose as to Christ, and His word was held fast, and His name not denied. People might pretend to be the ancient people of God; but Christ had His place in the heart, and hold on the walk and conduct of those whom Christ here approves. His word was kept, His name owned.
Two evils were before the eye of the Spirit in these times:— the synagogue of Satan, those who founded religion on ordinances and not on Christ: a present and pretentious evil— “they say.” The other a judgment of the Lord Himself, the hour of temptation which was coming on the whole world to try those attached to the earth, as it had been formed under the eye of God. As to the first, their judgment, after all, was light, but a great strength to the saints; who might seem to act for themselves, and despise the old traditions and truths, or what were said to be such, sanctioned for ages. They would be brought to own, by God’s ways and dealings, that it was those who had little strength but were faithful to Christ, His word and name, whom He loved. They would have to come and bow before the feet of the despised remnant of faithful ones, weak as they might have been, and to confess, at any rate, that Christ had loved them. And this is what contents and satisfies the heart—the approbation and the love of Christ. This is what is presented by Christ, and what constitutes the ruling principle of the heart of the faithful here.
The first point, then, was Jewish principles invading the church outside her Jezebel character; that is, ordinances, traditions, and human authority in contrast with Christ. The second is connected with the consciousness that the world is going on to a scene of confusion and judgment, a time of universal trial. In the light in which Philadelphia stands, this is clear to those who have the understanding given by the Spirit of God. Christ is coming. Christ has to be confessed and held to fast, when all principle is loosed, God setting an open door before faith, but the world itself uneasy. The saints who hear with the ear given to faith will escape the hour of temptation. The reason is given. Christ is waiting for His allotted crown, and maintains His exclusive heavenly character, till He rises up from His Father’s throne.
But the mass of professors are dwellers upon earth, not pilgrims; they have not their conversation in heaven waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour. But there are those who have kept the word of Christ’s patience, who know that He must wait until His enemies be made His footstool, and wait as strangers in heart on the earth till then. Christ has taught them this, and given the word that in teaching directs the path and spirit and conduct of him that waits. They wait with Christ, according to the word of His patience. It is into this, connected with the love of God, that Paul prayed the Thessalonians might be directed (2 Thess. 3:5). They are thus in the spirit of their mind separate from the world, as He is, associated with Him. It is not needed to try and prove them as dwellers upon earth. Here, therefore, His coming is given as direct encouragement and joy. ‘You have to keep the word of my patience. Have patience, but I will keep you out of the hour of temptation which is coming; and not only so, I am quickly coming.’ “Hold fast what thou hast [an earnest and important word] that no man take thy crown.” In a time when there is little strength, and nothing but the promise of Christ’s approbation to encourage, and the return to Jewish principles in those who profess to hold anything, it is a great thing to hold fast that that one has, the word of Christy not denying the name of Christ, to keep the word of His patience.
The open door is before us, and it is a great blessing, and none can shut it. But the special exhortation is to hold fast that we have, and remember that keeping the word of Christ’s patience, who now waits the day when His Father shall cause Him to rise up and take the power, is that which gives the assurance of being kept out of the hour of temptation. It will come on all the world, but we shall be out of it. This must not be confounded with the great tribulation which comes on Jerusalem especially, from which the remnant flee. It is far more general—on all the world.
The promise is very special, as is the relationship with Christ. The character of the saint’s relationship, if he knew what his place was, is that of Christ’s. A heavenly man in the midst of pretensions to be the people of God, which made nothing of Him, his only part personal faithfulness along with them that clung to Him, the whole weight of human traditional religiousness being against them, else all death around him, yet an open door to serve. The glory which follows on this answers to the glory Christ takes in consequence of His walk. I do not mean exactly with the Father, as in John 20, but in the time of His coming glory, walking in communion with Him. The former was the means of possessing the latter. He shall be a pillar, says Christ (yes, he who was weak), “in the temple of my God, and go no more out. I will write on him the name of my God [on the faithful one who had not denied my name on earth, when there was nought else for him], and the name of the city of my God [the place of glory and power which God had prepared, for he had looked for a city which had foundations] new Jerusalem which cometh down from heaven from my God [there his thoughts had been], and my new name.” He shall be fully and openly associated with Me in the glory as he was by faith in littleness overlooked when there was nothing but Christ; but Christ for him was all. In God’s day He will be all, such is the promise, so closely associated with Christ Himself in the Philadelphia state of things. I pray the reader to fix his attention on the close association with Christ all through this epistle. Let us look around and see if we cannot see elements such as these—No Jewish principles formed in Protestant countries after a name to live, but death there? No looking out for a time of trouble on all the world? No truth in there being but little strength but an open door? If there be, let the reader mark what the warnings and exhortations of Christ are.
The closing state of things comes next. Church, as to its place in the world, it yet is. It stands with its angel before Christ to be judged as such. He takes its works into consideration as such. But it has settled down into taking things quietly. It has not a name of excellence compared with Jezebel, but death. The living elements have been concentrated in the Philadelphia state. It would not renounce Christ, would keep up profession, would sacrifice nothing for Him, it would keep the church’s place and credit, yea, claim it largely on many grounds as a body; but spiritual power, in individual association of heart with Christ or trouble for Him, was gone. Christ abhorred such a state. It was as lukewarm water, which would be spued out of His mouth. Such was the judgment unconditionally pronounced on the church of Laodicea. But, as ever till actual judgment comes, God continues to work, if any man may have ears to hear. So in Jeremiah: the plainest declaration that they would go to Babylon; yet continual calls to repentance, and a statement of God’s way in this respect on repentance.
In Laodicea, all that they professed to have, all that man could estimate the value of, was false and human. I do not mean mere outward riches, but all that could give a large pretension to wisdom and knowledge and learning, perhaps a fuller view of Christianity itself; self-satisfaction in what was possessed: this characterised the professing church in Laodicea, but utter poverty as to Christ, nothing of Him—a name to attach to learning and human thoughts, but of Him nothing. Hence His counsel was to buy of Him gold tried in the fire, true divine righteousness in Him never separated from life, for it is His nature: and white raiment, the power of this association with Christ in what is displayed in man, living righteousness; and to have that true intelligence of the Holy Ghost which makes us see, the unction of the Holy One. In a word, the divine gifts and power of Christianity in contrast with what man possesses as man, with that of which he can say “gain to me”—man’s conscious possession of that which gives importance and value to man in his own mind. The relationships of Christ to the professing church here are remarkable. The Christian is a new man, a new creation in Christ, risen into a wholly new place, on the utter rejection and proved insuperable evil of the first man—proved insuperable in the death of Christ. Man’s and Satan’s business are to exalt and give a place to the old. It is not here in the world, not at any rate in his own eyes. The professing church goes decidedly back here into that out of which we are taken in Christ by faith. Hence though this has still the name of the church, and professes to be Christian, it is really wholly in its own claimed moral place, though thinking itself wiser than ever, off the ground of Christianity, and on that of the world or natural man, which consequently comes on the scene in its own place; and the church closes. What was wholly wanting was what was divine and new in man. It was the first man enriched, even if Christ enriched him. That would be admitted. There was no divine righteousness, no specific christian clothing, the righteous life, according to Christ, of a new nature to be had only in Him. The teaching of the Holy Ghost was wanting. Man’s intelligence was wonderfully and wholly in play. The things counselled to be got make this character of the evil clear; they are specifically divine things connected with man’s rejection and acceptance in Christ alone, to be had only in Christ, and from Christ, and nowhere else; not an improvement of man, but what was divine found in and obtained from Him.
To this, and the fact of its being the closing state, all answers. Christ reveals Himself as the “Amen” who secures every promise of God, now man has failed even in the church. He is the faithful and true Witness in Himself. The witness of the church as a witness of Him is gone. He is the beginning of that new creation, of which indeed the church ought to have been a witness in the power of the Holy Ghost; but of which He in resurrection was the Head, the spring, and manifestation; all taking, in the new creation, its starting point of existence from Him, its place under Him. Adam had such a place in the old, the image of Him that was to come—Christ, in the new, of which the saints are the first-fruits. But here, the church, which on profession as founded on His resurrection had this character, having wholly failed and gone back in professed riches of human nature to the old, Christ comes forward as the beginning of it all, the one in whom it had its rise and its truth j all the rest being wholly dependent on and flowing from Him. The Amen maintains the promises now to be fulfilled—the faithful and true Witness— One who had, and now would fully make good, the character of God—which man, His image, and the church, too, had failed to do—the beginning of the creation of God, one who, when God made all things new, as He was now about to do, was the beginning, the fountain and source of it all, the first in, and the first from, whom it all flowed. The position He takes, in respect of the church, shews the same relationship to it. He was practically without it, looking at it as gone, though it were not yet spued out of His mouth. It is a question, though He warned it yet, of individuals hearing His voice that they may escape—may have fellowship with Him, and He with them. He has not given it up; but it has become wholly human in its real state, as judged by Him; so that He has to come in to the individual if he has anything to say to Him, or Christ to him. “I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
The whole body of members of the professing church were judged to be men now, not sons of God or Christians, though judgment was not publicly executed, but Christ still acting in grace; divine things (the alone true ones) recommended, human things boasted in. If the individual heard Him who still called and knocked, though as outside at the door, He would have communion with him. The promise answers to the bringing in of the new order of things, not heavenly joys, still a share with Christ. As they had listened in time, they would be on the throne in the kingdom. It was immense grace, but no more is promised; not the tree of life, no hidden manna, no white raiment spoken of to the soul, to encourage it in faithfulness within: they would not miss the kingdom. Blessed surely, and wonderful grace, but only just not shut out.
This, of course, necessarily closed the church’s history. The reader will remark, that the instruction being moral, a state that is judged, promises ever precious, the warnings and exhortations are available to the saints at all times. The special application may be more or less seized. The words of Christ have power at all times for the heart and conscience; and this is the force of the exhortation at the end to every church:— “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.”
We now come to the government of the world. The failure of the church as a professing outward body, founded on human responsibility (for as built by Christ for His glory, it never can, but this is in heaven in purpose, and judgment certainly does come in this world), had left only this, and brought in necessarily the intervention of God in judgment.
The prophet is called up to heaven; for no government of God was yet manifested on the earth, and the church was no longer owned as witness; and the first voice which he” had heard as a trumpet, the voice of the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the voice of Him who was behind him in the midst of the golden candlesticks, now called him up to where His power and activity was to display itself—the Ancient of days, whom we shall now first have to see on the throne; but whom we shall also perceive as a distinct person as the Lamb. We have a throne in heaven, instead of candlesticks upon the earth. In the “things after these,” or hereafter, we find evidently the last part of the verse which gives the division of the book; and, whether translated “after these” or “hereafter,” the sense is the same; as the preceding things were “the things that are.” The judgment of Daniel 7 is here largely developed. The jasper is divine display. I go no farther. It is not essential nature, though this be what is displayed; but display of divine glory in government and judgment—what secures and protects from evil. I say this merely from its use, not from any notion as to the stone. (Compare chap. 21:18, 19, and 11.) It characterises divine display thus in the book. The rainbow is covenant with creation. The throne thus gives the government which secures from evil and blesses creation. The saints, kings and priests, are seen in glory, enthroned and crowned as kings here (in the next chapter, priests), and decked with the ornament of righteousnesses in life. The throne was one of majesty and judgment (not 01 grace) Sinai-like, and before it the perfection of attributive power; the seven Spirits of God were seen. And that which erst was the means of feet-washing, and cleansing before judgment came in, was now solid purity on which cleansed ones could walk and find no uncleanness to take up. The cherubim (four not two, completeness, not witness) were in the midst of the throne and around it, characterised it in its inward nature, and surrounded35 it with what was their peculiar character. That character is judicial power, as I have elsewhere remarked, and as all the cases, in which they appear, shew.
But the details shew other elements in their attributions here. They are heads of the four parts of created existence on the earth. They have this under their power as their attribution, so to speak; man, beasts of the field, cattle, and fowls of the air—not of the sea; every one characterised by rapidity of flight, and power of inward perception. In verse 8 their service is referred to, and the eyes are within; this characterised their intelligence, its nature: a figure easy to comprehend. We know more or less what it is to have within us a clear perception of what is, of the nature and motives of what is, around us. These were full of eyes before and behind; they saw all things on every side. The administrative knowledge of the throne was not a partial knowledge. It was not a mere outward knowledge of circumstances which governed. The eyes were within. God, in His Old Testament characters— Jehovah, Elohim, Shaddai—God, the Supreme Governor, and God once of promise, always of fulfilment, and the Great King over all the earth, the Creator who faints not, neither is weary, was unceasingly celebrated by the administration of His power in providence and creation. But they do this in a peculiar character—Holy! holy! holy—in that character, which allows no evil to be near it, but will be sanctified in all that were nigh to Him. But this is celebration, not worship. The elders fall down and worship. Nor only so; they give— and that characterises in general the worship of the elders— they give motives and reasons for it. It is intelligent reasonable worship. They worship Him that sits on the throne, Him who has title over creation, by whom and for whom all things were created: “For thy will they were and have been created.”
Redemption is not yet touched on. I have largely noticed elsewhere, but must not here pass over, the exquisitely beautiful character of the moral state and position of the elders. When the throne of judgment is set, they are on thrones. The lightnings, and thunderings, and voices left them in unmoved peace. Why should they not? Their place was the witness and result of divine righteousness in which they sat there, which had crowned them; and the exercise of this judgment left them necessarily in the peace it gave. But when He who sat on the throne was celebrated, then they were all activity. They leave their thrones, they cast down their crowns, ascribing all glory to Him who alone was worthy. He that sits on the throne is Christ, but viewed as Jehovah, and sitting as such, not as a distinct person seen apart from Godhead, nor as a Son with the Father in Godhead; but the Jehovah of the Old Testament revealed in the Son. It will be remarked, there is no manifestation of angels here.
We may remark here, that the whole scenery is taken from the temple, a remark which aids in the intelligence of the structure of the book, only it is changed in several particulars, and, though permanent, answers in some details more to the tabernacle—the shadow of heavenly things.
In the right hand of power of Him that sat on the throne was a book, the unfolding of the counsels and purposes of God, according to His power. It was filled with these, but perfectly sealed up. The personal glory of the Opener is brought into evidence by the inquiry, who could unfold and give effect to them. None anywhere could be found; but the heavenly elders have intelligence of the ways and mind of God. Christ can. He is spoken of in His Jewish character, but in the way of divine power—the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, the source of promise, and the Mighty One to prevail; but, after all, it was redemption, and suffering for the glory of God, which had given Him the title. Blessed thought! The prophet must see a Lamb as it had been slain. Full power and competency to execute it according to the perfection of God’s attributes were in Him—seven horns and seven eyes. He was the centre of all that expressed divine power and its displays and results—the throne, the beasts, and the elders.
The beasts and elders are distinguished here. The Lamb was in the midst of the throne and the beasts; and in the midst of the elders. That is, the power of government, providence and creation, whoever instrumentally wielded it; and in the midst of the crowned and enthroned company, who were as added heirs to this, the redeemed kingdom of priests. The seven Spirits which were before the throne, part of God’s glory on it, are seen in the Lamb, but as sent forth to accomplish the divine purposes in all the earth under the Lamb’s authority. He comes, and takes the book. Now redemption is celebrated. I would here make some remarks, as regards the beasts and elders, not with the certainty of teaching but submitting them to inquiry, in which state they stand in my own mind, though the inquiry be based on elements settled in my own mind.
In chapter 4, creation and providential power were brought before us as such, and no angels. Here also redemption and the angels are seen. Further, in this whole book (indeed in all scripture), the cherubic animals hold the place of judicial power, and administer it providentially. The elders everywhere have divine intelligence of the motives for praise. This belongs to the saints as such, and indeed especially to Christians, who have an unction from the Holy One and know all things, but to the saints as such. The administration of governmental and judicial power is not exclusively theirs. They get it in consequence of redemption. Further, in chapter 4, the beasts celebrate the glory of Him that sits on the throne—announce His character—the elders only worship thereupon. The angels are not seen. I have supposed then that, redemption not being yet manifested, the administrative power is not viewed as taken out of the hands of the angels, for we know that the world to come is not subjected to them. Creation and all its glory is seen as such, the living creatures are not yet the saints; and the angels are not seen apart from that glory of which they have been the heads. When the Lamb is manifested, those associated with Him must take the first place as connected with Him, and the angels delight in it. This we have in chapter 5. Redemption brings in the reign of man in Christ. (Compare Eph. 1:20-23 and 1 Pet. 3:22.) The Lamb being now manifested as Redeemer, this also is manifested. The beasts36 worship with the elders, are now associated, and the angels are seen, as such, apart. As we go on to the farther parts of the book, we shall see that the beasts recede, and the elders take the first place.
Here, the beasts and elders, the heavenly saints, I apprehend, in their double character of heads of creation, and kings and priests, exercise distinctly the office of priests, not in interceding, but in offering up the prayers of the saints. The intelligence of the elders, the saints, viewed in this character of priests brought near to God, whose lips keep knowledge, celebrate the Lamb as worthy to take the book, and open the seals, and why He is so; namely, that He has gone through death and wrought redemption—redeemed to God. I suppose the “us” is justly rejected. It is not who are redeemed that makes Him worthy; but that He has redeemed people to God out of every nation, and made them kings and priests, and that they will reign. It is His work, and its effect and character, that make Him worthy. Who should open that book of the kingdom, or the ways of God in bringing it in, but He who had brought it into existence and all in it, by sacrificing Himself? And here the angels come in with willing chorus in a beautiful way, owning the effect of this work, and standing farther off, but in the best of places since it was the one that owned and gave glory to the Lamb in His work. They stood in a circle around the throne and the beasts and the elders. So every creature joined in the chorus. And the four beasts say “Amen” to the creature. It was their place. The twenty-four elders fall down and worship. This is their own worship. It is more than the “Amen” of the beasts to the praise of the creation. This, though we have made progress as to the facts in the prophetic history (for the book has been now taken by the Lamb in order to open it), yet gives an anticipative expression to universal praise. John hears it prophetically. The twenty-four elders and beasts made part of the subsisting glory from which all was to follow—crowned and enthroned before there was any history.
For the history to begin, the Lamb must take the book. This is all-important as to the saint’s place when the Lamb takes the book. To the prophetic eye and ear the angels fall into their natural place in the kingdom; and then his ear hears the voice (as Paul’s before the groans of every creature everywhere) celebrating the glory of Him that was on the throne, and of the Lamb. Seen they could not be yet thus; but it was, so to speak, the natural result of that which was now taking effect. Many a groan would go up, and many a sorrow be felt. But the book the Lamb had taken, the elders were manifested in their redemption-place, the angels joyful in that which redemption gave them; the Lamb not yet indeed seen as having taken His kingdom on earth, but His title to it loudly proclaimed above by those who knew and were the firstfruits of it, and the ways ready to be unfolded which led to it. The voice of the result is prophetically heard, and, as heads of government and creation, the beasts say, “Amen.” The voice is true and right. As elders, the saints worship Him that never fails in promise, but makes good in immutable nature what He has purposed in grace. It is not “him on the throne “here; the creatures were not yet in actual relation with it; but He lives to make all good.
All this is introduction; to put all in their places for the kingdom and ways of God—creation and redemption each having its due glory. And now the history itself will begin. As yet the beasts are in the foreground—providential dealings; the (to man) hidden ways of God are going on. The Lamb opened one of the seals. And one of the four beasts, these leaders of the governmental ways of God, of His judicial power, speaks with thunder. It is known that many leave out “and see.” Should they remain, it is clearly a call to John; but I hardly see why it should be a voice of thunder. The idea that it is the voice of creation looking to Jesus to come seems to me wholly out of the way. The groaning creation, or longing creation, does not speak in thunder. It seems to me more naturally as the expression of God’s thunder and power—a call to the horses to come forth. The reading must first be determined, of course; but if this be right, it is not without importance, as settling what I have, at the same time, never doubted, without any such ground, that the four horses have the same character. The horse is always the action of divine power, gone forth into the earth, accomplishing, whatever the agent may be, divine purpose and providence. A white horse characterises triumph, as is well known: such is the white horse here, triumphant conquest. The next is a state of war and conflict which takes peace from the earth. In the third God calls for famine on the earth; in the last, all His four sore plagues (Ezek. 14:21). It is not special dealings with a revealed antagonistic state, which are presented to us. It is history, history of the condition of the earth, the special scene of God’s dealings, where He has been made known, but where man does not care about God, or perhaps favours His enemies, and persecutes His people. God deals with them, and, though at first all seems fair and prosperous in his hands where active power is, the judgments of God soon reach the scene. For the force of horses as a symbol see Zechariah 1 and 6, and Revelation 19. It will be seen in all these cases, that it indicates a matter of public general dealing of God, something that characterises the state of men and God’s dealing with them.
The opening of the seal brings no longer the cry of the beasts. John sees those who had been martyred among men, had offered up their lives for God’s word and for testimony which they held. Hence they were seen under the altar. They looked not for peace themselves, but for judgment on the earth. We are here not in the gospel scene or spirit of things, but of the throne of judgment and government, as we see in the Psalms. The time for executing judgment and avenging their blood was soon coming, but not yet come. Their faithfulness was owned. White robes were given them, the witness of accepted practical righteousness, the. witness of its acceptance before others; but they must rest a little while. Others must yet suffer in the last days. God has begun to deal with the earth; but the last scenes are not yet come.
But another character given of God to men here comes in view, already prophetically introduced in the promise to Philadelphia— “them that dwell on earth.” They are settled, and have their habitation there. It is not necessary to be of the church, in order not to have this character. It is true of the church; but in Daniel 7 also we have saints of the high places. And before Daniel Abraham “looked for a city which had foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” He declared plainly that he sought a country, that is, an heavenly, so that God was not ashamed to be called his God. So it was with him, who could say for himself and others, “I am a stranger and a sojourner with Thee, as all my fathers were.” It may be that the very departure of the church may have stamped this character of saints of the high places on many that are left behind. At any rate those who have been slain for their testimony easily know the settled worldly character of those who had slain them, how they had the earth for their place and name.
Remark, that we have no time or date as yet here, only there is but a little season to follow. How long the horses have been pursuing their career in accomplishing God’s will, since the book was opened, is left wholly untold; only they were, when the church was present and owned of God, future things. How the witness is given to them, the white robes, is not said. The cry is for vengeance on others, not for blessing on themselves. If it be not resurrection, there is no reason why even those of the church and all saints martyred for God’s word may not be there. I apprehend it is since the church’s rapture. The date of the passage is wholly forward, there is none as to the time they were martyred. There is—as to getting the white robes, and evidently confirmed by what follows—an intimation of the closing-in of God’s ways. They are going to become direct, with revealed (yea evident) causes of judgment, not providential.
The next thing is a general break-up of all established authority, and general confusion; everything that seemed stable on the earth ruined and broken up, so as to produce bitter terror in the minds of men. But the end was not yet. They think it is the day of the Lamb’s wrath, and of Him that sat on the throne. The martyred saints knew that others were to be slain; but men had a bad conscience, and they feared the judgment of the throne and of the Lamb. I think this marks conscious enmity to them too. It is hardly a state of superstitious service; while the character of their fear seems to intimate that it is the fear of them that dwell on the earth, when Christianity, the profession of the knowledge of the Father and the Son is gone, and is known in conscience to have been rejected. The throne they had to do with, and the Lamb, speak of wrath to them, not worship. Why so? We are here surely in another scene of things where this is on the conscience when it awakes through fear.
If the great day of His wrath was not come, the harbingers in rapid and terrible succession were soon to break in on the unrepentant earth; but meanwhile God must have and secure a people through them all. This securing of His people is what chapter 7 sets before us—the servants of His power holding the elements ready to devastate the earth. But another servant of God from the rising of the sun, I suppose in connection with the blessing of Messiah, the light of God in the midst of Israel (Luke 1:77-79), who has authority over the four prepared to hurt the earth and the sea, charges them to hold back the elements of destruction, till the servants of God are sealed. I have little doubt this intimates Christ (though in a new character, and in connection with the earthly people) and the saints. He holds the seal of the living God. Of course He alone could; but the saints are associated with Him. He says, “till we have sealed the servants of our God.” He cannot now be separated, in the accomplishment of God’s ways, from the heavenly saints. Not that this is yet manifested, but is here revealed for the intelligence of faith. What is preparing is the gathering of all things in one in Him, as Head, the heavenly saints at least. The church, all save those exceptionally to be killed in the last tribulation, are gathered to Him. His own proper heavenly company are there. And He intimates their association with Himself, and must now provide, according to the will of God, for the people of the saints of the Most High. He does not yet come to secure their bodies, but to mark them irrevocably for God. His elect people in Israel. Trouble of every kind might come, but they were marked for God. In general indeed even temporal security is here assured. (Compare chap. 9:4.)
In the special tribulations of the last day, I do not see that God’s servants in Israel are slain.37 At any rate, in the plagues immediately coming here, being judgments, the sealed saints are not the objects of them,. (See chap. 9:4-6 and 20, 21.) I speak here of Israel, for with that we are occupied. The woes are on the inhabitants of the earth, the opposite exactly of the sealed ones. This sealing is a usual thing from the time of Christ’s coming, when righteousness existed which could be sealed. He was sealed by God, the Father. This was the Holy Spirit. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, He being our righteousness on high. But this is in association with heaven; though Christ was as yet associated with earth. It is the living God whose seal it is here; not exactly the seal or promise of the Father, but that their sure part is from the living God in connection with the dayspring rising on the earth. The elect number of the twelve tribes is sealed—the 1000 x 12 x 12.
But there are others who are characterised as Gentiles. The associations and character are quite different here, and partly in connection with this point, of their going through the tribulation; and it leads to a remark, which facilitates the apprehension of the order and contents of this part of this book. We have, to the end of chapter 9, three distinct classes of persons; the sealed 144,000 of Israel, the multitude who praise God in white robes, and the dwellers on the earth, men who are not sealed. If we take out the white-robed multitude (chap. 7:9-17), the rest is angelic care and judgment. All is in angelic hands. We come down to providential secret care, and God’s ways by outward means, of which we may have the secret here, but which are providential. Nor is anything seen of the Lamb. Indeed this is the case as regards His being in the scene, though with a very special revelation of the beast, and we are in Israel, and do not find the Lamb again, till chapter 14—a chapter which gives the scenes of God’s ways. It is not that the dealings of chaps. 7:1-8, and 8, and chaps. 10-12 are the same; but they are the same in this, that we are in angelic scenes, and Jerusalem and Israel is everywhere the centre, though the oppressing power might be Gentile. I do not think chapter 13 an exception to what I have said. The Lamb is not in the scene, only the names are written in His book before the foundation of the world. Those saved and spared could not be in any other way, or on any other account. But we shall see all this more clearly in following the different facts of the chapters.
Chapter 12:10, 11, is a confirmation of what I mean. It is the celebration in heaven of what took place at another time.38
I return to chapter 7:9. It is entirely a distinct vision from what precedes. The difference, I apprehend, in their character, is this. The vision of the 144,000 sealed ones is their being marked by God, so as to secure them for Himself in grace through the coming trials. It is wholly prospective; they are there marked for this. The vision of the Gentile multitude is prospective too, but they are seen simply in the result coming out of the trial, so that no time of commencement is set. Whenever the time of tribulation began, those who were in it are found here. The slain ones have been seen (chap. 6:9). It may be, that this tribulation begins with the universal break-up of the end of chapter 6; but it may have gone on in the previous seals for aught that is said directly, as far as I am aware. Doubtless it continues afterwards in the following chapters. At all events those seen in the vision belong to the time of tribulation.
We have now to consider a little more closely their character. In chapter 14 the 144,000 are with the Lamb—those of Israel, I apprehend, who have passed through circumstances analogous to those through which Christ passed in Israel, and are associated with Him in His Israelitish royalty on Mount Zion— the remnant of the Psalms. The white-robed multitude are before the throne; they have suffered for Christ more than the Jewish remnant, but are not associated with any special place of His. They have overcome. Their conduct is fully owned as righteous. Their relationship is with God who sits on the throne, and the Lamb—that is, the God of power and deliverance of the earth, the Judge after the church is gone; they stood before the throne. They are not sitting on thrones around it, nor even standing around it, making part of the heavenly circle. This the angels did, though the outer circle. They stood around the throne, the elders (who have here the first place), and the beasts; and these worship God, falling on their faces before Him. It was now in truth a new scene and display of God’s working, and there must be new worship. When the Lamb was revealed, these celebrate His praise. Now they praise the God whose glory they own, and who is about to make it good on the earth. The intelligent church has now, as such, the first place. The immediate activity will be in what has the character of being creation’s providential power. But another interesting element is found here. He who has the Spirit on earth is associated in intelligence with the heavenly saints, only He receives it here prophetically; that is, not by the presence of the Holy Ghost, the unction by which we know all things. That is the elders’ part—the church of glory as such; but it is communicated to the prophet according to the intelligence of these, and they are interested in the christian prophet’s knowing it. One of the elders says to him, “Who are these?” and the prophet says, “Thou knowest.” The intelligence of the Spirit is ever found with the elders.
Another point is brought to light by this intercourse between the prophet and those who represent the church as such on high. The white-robed multitude are entirely another class. They are not the church on high. They are not those who, in the time of millennial peace, knew nothing but its enjoyment. They have passed through the time of trial in the time when the throne was now set; but the Lamb was in the midst of it, and had not yet come to exercise judgment on the earth, to put down oppression, and to claim His rights in power. Hence they have a special place—a place, even in the time of blessing, in connection with their faith in the time of trial; and this is, I suppose, the general order of God’s ways. They are manifestly redeemed—those who belong altogether to the millennial time, yet exposed to trial; then, having gone by grace faithfully through the trial, they are manifestly, and manifested as, sheep. Their robes are white, washed in the blood of the Lamb. They are publicly owned as redeemed and approved, as in Matthew 25. This is a very great and distinctive privilege, though they are not in heaven. They serve the God to whom the throne belongs, always in full access to His presence in His temple. In heaven there is no temple; but they have association with the true temple. Christ has not come again, and received them to Himself where He is in the Father’s house; but they stand in the presence of God, as on the throne, in full acknowledgement and blessing, and always. They have a fixed, and blessed, and acknowledged place, which even the saints of the millennial time have not. He that sits on the throne tabernacles over them, as over Israel once, in the revelation of His presence (not “dwells among” them), and they are for ever secured by His own care from all trial and evil. The Lamb shall feed them, and lead them to fresh springs of living waters. God shall remove every remembrance and trace of sorrow; for they have had sorrow for Him, though surely to their own blessing and gain. Still God owns it. The suffering for Christ (in whatever time or circumstance it may be, Old Testament saints or these) always implies participation in redemption and special privilege, though the peculiar relationships may be different for the various displays of God’s glory, and blessing from His hand. So it is with the white-robed multitude. God’s state is various.
The unfolding of God’s ways on the earth is now prophetically proceeded with; and we return with it into angelic or providential dealing, though, as carried out by angels, of more distinct and direct judgment. The seventh seal is opened (chap. 8). There was a lull for a time. No open dealings to call men’s or the prophet’s attention; a short lapse of quiet. But God’s ways are preparing in secret (revealed to the prophet). The seven ministers of God’s power stood before him, and seven trumpets, loud announcements of the interference of God, were given to them. But this intervention follows on what goes on below. The great High Priest—still here seen as an angel—comes and stands at the altar (of incense), and gives efficacy to the cry of the saints who suffered on earth; but He was the minister of power; not here as sounding the trumpet, or as sent, but as giving the answer in judgment to the cry of suflFering. He casts the fire of judgment on the earth; and the signs of God’s terror and judgment, and actual convulsions on earth, follow.
But specific judgments were ready to follow; and the seven angels prepare to sound. Such is the connection of the ways and dealings of God with the saints. All is prepared for judgment; but as they, however feeble, represent God on the earth, the wickedness of the wicked, which must be judged, is directed against them, and their cry brings the judgment, being offered up by Christ according to the efficacy of the incense He can add to it.
Remark here, that when the saints (chap. 5:8) act as priests, they add no incense at all—privilege enough to have such a place, but they can add nothing. The odours are the saints’ own prayers on earth. Here (chap. 8:3) the Angel-High-Priest adds much incense to give efficacy to the cry of the saints.
I have nothing very distinct to communicate to my reader on the character of the judgments, revealed as coming on the earth in this chapter. Our best plan is to follow the symbols as a language. I apprehend it is in the western Roman earth. Chapter 9 is not, but in the east. At least the seat of the prophetic agents is there. It is not a mere state of things under God’s providential ordering as in the early seals, but positive judgments inflicted in a public way by signal historical facts. On the other hand, the working of these on men is indirect; in the woe trumpets direct—on “the inhabiters of the earth.” Hail is judgment, what I may call violent stormy judgment: fire is judgment in general, but in its penetrating character discovering and reaching evil. The judgment here had this double character. Both were mingled with blood. I am not quite so sure what this symbol means, but in general it seems to me to be death, not in the sense of being simply killed outwardly, but of the power of death, death in a moral way, the spirit of death in a shocking and revolting way, death as connected with sin as its character and cause. It was the power of death working as evil in man.
The outward effect of the judgment was the destruction of the great in the western earth, of what was elevated in dignity, and the universal destruction of prosperity. The second angel brings a great mountain burning with fire into the sea. A mountain is great established power. This is cast, but in the way and with the effect of heart-discriminating judgment (it burned with fire), into the mass of people, and they are filled with, brought into, a state characterised by this deathful power of evil. They become blood. All however did not die everywhere among the peoples, but it reached, in the wide expanse, to what answered to the extent of the seat of the evil. I suppose “dying” here to be departure from the profession of association with God, public separation from Him or apotsasy.
The next is a great star falls from heaven, a mighty though subordinate authority, which should have been the means of light and order from on high, a star (not the sun), but who loses his place, is apostate from his place of connection with God as such; and this with mighty and ardent brightness and heat, and falls on the sources of popular moral existence. It was bitterness itself, and exercised the influence of what it was upon the spirit of the people, so that they were completely animated by it. They became wormwood; and it brought death too; it was destruction and ruin to individuals from the way it worked according to its own nature in them.
In the fourth trumpet sovereign authority is smitten, and all dependent on or subordinate to it, which cease to regulate the order of the human course of things within the sphere assigned to these plagues, of which I have already spoken. I suppose the third part to be the Roman earth (west), because the dragon with seven heads and ten horns sweeps the third part of the stars, and they are cast to the earth—they lose their place of connection with God, carried away by Satan’s power. Not only the public course of things was cast into confusion and darkness—the day in sunlight darkened; but the more private and hidden life of man lost the light that guided it. There was darkness and stumbling, no perception of God’s will, and no way or light to walk by, which the human understanding (faculty of seeing) could profit by.39
The last trumpet or woes are to fall on the inhabiters of the earth, those attached to this world and its course, not on the state and circumstances of the Roman empire. The two first trumpets must first occupy us, as they are spoken of apart. A word on the structure of this part of the book is necessary. The course of the prophecy passes over evidently from the end of chapter 9 to chapter 11:15, and this part closes at the end of verse 18. Chapters 10, 11, to the end of verse 14. form a parenthetic portion, the communication of the little book. We have, from chapter 11:19, the fully revealed final dealings of God, and the evil in respect of which He so deals; the resolving of the great question, whether Christ and the saints with Him, or Satan and the powers under his control, are to have the upper hand in this scene of the conflict between good and evil.
The first of the woe-trumpets brings forth a peculiar power of Satanic evil; the second, a more earthly distress, though both were woe. When the fifth angel sounds, one who rules, or should rule, on high, becomes apostate, loses his place of connection with God, as such, and becomes the instrument of letting loose the power of Satan; he has the key of the bottomless pit. Sovereign authority was obscured, and the whole atmosphere of men’s mind darkened, and in confusion. Out of this the destructive activity of evil was let loose upon the earth. Its instruments were deadly and tormenting to men. Yet they did not affect the general prosperity, nor the grandeur of those that were exalted, but those who were not sealed with the sealing of chapter 7. But the object of this judgment was not to put to death, but such, as that death would be a refuge from the torment that these instruments of Satan’s malice and God’s judgment inflicted on men; men who, servants of Satan and the world for their lusts, were now so to their pain and grief. Those who were not openly God’s servants were subject to it.
We are here, I doubt not, in the East, and I suppose especially in Canaan and in Israel. This was the woe. But identifying characters are given of the instruments of torment. The general idea is warlike instruments of God’s providential power in the earth—horses prepared for battle ravaging as to devouring power, but not independent (their hair was woman’s hair), though in appearance they came in their own strength and intelligence. They swept with violence forward, as a rush of chariots of many horses. But whatever outward character they had, there was one definite and distinct—they were directly led by the power of darkness, the angel of the bottomless pit, the destroyer. It was God’s judgment by outward means, but by Satan’s power on the ungodly on the earth, who sought their portion in it. Men might persecute the saints, and would grievously, the Lord using it for blessing. But His hand would be now upon the ungodly, not yet in final judgment, but a witness of His penal anger against wickedness. The stings in the tails seem to me principles and doctrines which they disseminated and left behind them.
The second woe was of a more outward character; not devoid of Satanic power, but not so directly so. It was not so absolutely characterised by its subtlety and power. There was more brutish violence; men were killed by them. Still the men mounted on the horses were far less important than the horses themselves. Men, though instruments, did far less than the orderings of God’s spirit in providence, and His ways on the earth. Fire and brimstone are, no doubt, judgment, but not by the word, nor by chastenings or actings of God in the earth on men. The lake of fire burns with fire and brimstone. It is God’s judgment, inflicted but having in its own nature a consuming power of evil. Scorpion-work was poisonous, the devil’s tormenting mischief, a terrible judgment too, to be exposed to it; but this had the character of human violence and hellish misery and ruin. It seems to come on members of the Roman world, though its action be from, and especially in, the East. The destructive power of judicial evil was connected with what they announced before them. They killed by that which they proclaimed, where it reached. It cost people their lives. But they had, besides, mischievous teachings, teachings concentrated in a power by which they did mischief on the earth—they had heads on their tails. Their defence was from hell and its power—their breastplates were fire, jacinth, and brimstone. It was hell’s destructive power, as God’s judgments before. It was the serpent’s mischief behind, but concentrated in a head of power. But no repentance was wrought. Put men, so to speak, in hell’s hands, they do not repent. Idolatry and wickedness, wrong against God and man, still characterised them.
I would remark, that the objects of the first woe were the unsealed ones, which carries us, in effect, eastward to Israel. The point of departure of the second was the East, its objects the inhabiters of the Roman earth. Thus the whole Roman world has been judged: the West, in general, in the first four trumpets; the East in the first two woe-trumpets, including the Jews. The final conflict, and their judgment is yet to come; and the prophet must prophesy again.
This properly begins,. I apprehend, in chapter 11:19, which is in effect a new prophecy, though it connects itself, of course, with what precedes in the chronology of the matter, and is thus interwoven. Indeed, the place of much of it, of its main historical parts, is given in the parenthesis. It is to be remarked, that the voice which calls out the second woe comes from the golden altar, is the fruit of the intercession of the Lord in favour, of course, of His saints. This gives a distinct character to the judgment, as in favour of the saints, which is indeed given as a general principle at the beginning of the trumpets; but distinguishes this from the first woe-trumpet, which was distinctly on the unfaithful, as contrasted with the sealed ones—on those who were not servants of God. The four angels give the second woe a very general and sweeping character; as we have had four seals of judgment, four angels at the four corners of the earth who hold the four winds, four trumpets of devastation on the Roman earth, so here the cry comes from the four horns of the altar, and the four angels are loosed. I suppose the Euphrates is to be looked at as the natural, and, till God so interferes, the maintained barrier of the Roman earth.
In chapter 10 we come to the parenthetic communication of the little open book. It had not seals to be opened; it was given open. It was no longer mysterious and providential preparatory ways to introduce the Lamb, to unfold which redemption was needed; nor among mere Gentiles, where God had no direct government, in respect of Israel. Nor does the Lamb appear here as hidden in the throne. Christ comes to assert His own rights by His own title and power. Not that it was yet made good; but this was the ground He took, and from which the revelation that was given flowed. The hidden times were going on, before even the empire which was the subject of the course of prophecy had yet appeared. Now the question is openly raised—Is Christ to rule? And He openly lays claim to the title. On the other hand the beast, the great public subject of historical prophecy of the “times of the Gentiles,” comes forward too. Along with this, Jerusalem and the Jews come upon the scene. This could not be otherwise, when the earth and the beasts and Christ are the subjects treated of. They are then the necessary centre of God’s ways. But this gives a distinct character to this part of the prophecy.
The character given to Christ represented by the angel is, in covenant with creation, supreme authority, and the firmness of discriminating judgment. The source of it is heaven, and, I apprehend, as “clothed with the cloud.” He still maintains this character, though He comes down. He holds in His hand now the open book of prophetic revelation, and claims the wide-flowing mass of nations, and the ordered government of earth. The perfect expression of the divine authority and power which was to make it good accompanied it, but the expressed detail of this was not to be revealed. There was now to be no longer delay. There had been long patience with failure and evil to gather men to blessing. The time to close it was come. Two angels had sounded, and in the days of the seventh or third woe-angel, when he would sound as he was about to do, the mystery of God would be finished. It would be the plain manifestation of His government and order, and blessing on the earth, and known authority, where it ought to be. John was to take the book and eat it—sweet in his mouth to receive the communications of God, but bitter for every feeling when its contents were digested. He was to prophesy again in view of peoples and kings. I should hardly think the prophecy begins with what follows. It affords the character and place in prophecy of that which is afterwards opened out in all its bearings—the internal history of the scene itself at the close, not its origin, relationships, judgments, etc., which are afterwards unfolded.
The language of this chapter 11:1-18, though sometimes figurative, is not symbolical but literal in its general character. The prophet was given a reed, and he was to measure, to put under God’s care and in His acceptance, the temple of God, the true inward place of His worship where priests could come, true worshippers among the Jews and in the consciousness of it, and the altar (I suppose, of incense), and those that worshipped there—the true Jewish worshippers of that day. The court outside was not accepted; and the Gentiles trod under foot the holy city forty-two months. But as heart-worship, it would be there in the remnant, so would testimony, and for a like period. Day by day, the two witnesses, the adequate testimony of God, prophesy in the midst of trial. They bear witness to the order and blessing of the Jewish state, when Messiah shall reign, but they are not in that state; not a candlestick with two olive-trees, but two candlesticks and two olive-trees. But they are before the God of the earth. God preserves them to complete their testimony.
The very terms, “holy city” and “Gentiles,” lead us at once to Jewish associations here. All is a testimony to the state of things which exists before He who could put His right foot on the sea, and His left foot on the earth, whose voice the seven thunders accompanied, makes good His power in the earth, and makes the Jerusalem which He loves the seat of His power on the earth, before the God of the earth makes His rest-giving power known there. The power of judgment proceeds out of the mouth, that is, their word brings it on their enemies, according to their testimony, to devour those who would prevent their testimony. They have great power in this way. Verse 6 ascribes to them the same order and extent of power as was possessed by Moses and Elijah. The latter shut up heaven; the former turned water to blood, and smote Egypt with plagues. To this latter there is no limit—every plague whenever they will. This is great power; but they are in sackcloth—in sorrow and suffering: only this power is in their hand in time of need. But it is only to secure and maintain their testimony, not to set aside the power of the beast itself.
When the witnesses have completed their testimony, the beast that is known as the one ascending40 out of the bottomless pit shall make war with them, overcome and kill them. It is very likely there may be literally two witnesses; but the main point, I apprehend, in the mind of the Spirit is, that there is, during the time of the beast’s power and the treading down of the Gentiles, adequate testimony to the title of the God of the earth. There was an owned worship and an owned testimony, though only narrowed up to the straitest limits which preserved it, the house and the altar of incense, and an adequate witness. What was really priest and really prophet, the little remnant, was guarded of God. The beast was in his last form, here anticipated in expression as is the whole passage (see chap. 17:12), when animated by, and deriving his power and being from, Satan. It does not follow from what is said, rather the contrary, that the witnesses are killed the first moment. The beast makes war against them and overcomes them, as soon as their testimony is complete, and kills them. But it does not, on the other hand, suppose any lengthened period. The triumph of evil seems complete. They were to be likened, in a great measure, to their Lord. Only their bodies are exposed in a public way in the great street of the city, which is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt. Israel is expressly called Sodom spiritually, and Egypt is the world; utter corruption on the one side; and the oppressing power of the world or Gentiles on the other—that idolatry and independence of God, out of which Israel had originally been called. The victory seemed complete, and the dwellers on earth rejoice over the witnesses slain, and make merry, for the two witnesses had tormented them.
A God of the earth, about to take His power and claim His rights over the earth, it was no resting-place for those who dwelt. there at ease defying Him. But the triumph of the wicked is short. After three days and a half the breath of life from God entered into them, and they stood up to the dismay of those who saw them. They ascended up, like Christ in great measure, only with this difference, answering to the full insult heaped on them even when dead, which God could not allow as to Christ,41 to whom, save in the moment of atonement, God gave ever testimony (however He suffered), namely, that their enemies beheld them. The likeness, atonement apart, of the history of these witnesses to that of Christ is remarkable. They suffer for their testimony in Jerusalem become Sodom and Egypt. They lie dead awhile, stand on the earth, and then go up to heaven. But we have the solemn truth that, on the one hand, a testimony is given to the Son of God which could not fail, that is, to His person; and on the other, He remains in His own holy power, not seen of His enemies, but giving comfort and a place of testimony to His friends. All this is fitting. Further we find, that as to outward human evil, things had ripened. There is more insolence, more joy, more open contrast, more public power of testimony; but the evil more openly unrestrained. A violent revolution on the earth accompanied the call of the witnesses to heaven; a tenth part of the city, the great city—I suppose, the city, fell; the organised system of the earth, a complete number of men42 known of God, the fulness of His then purposed judgment, but not further—the rest are affrighted, and turn back in ignorance (not repentant or converted), to give glory to God in a relationship in which He no longer stood to the earth. They think to save themselves. This proves that they do not know God at all, nor His ways. But these men were not the public enemies of God. Still, a suitable outward effect is produced, as turning men outwardly towards the true God.
The second woe, that of the horses and riders let loose from the Euphrates, was now closed. But how serious were the events of another kind which had happened in the period allotted to it of God! The holy city trodden down, the testimony of God raised up, and for a time stopped by the power of Satan exercised by the beast. But this gives occasion to the last intervention of God, not now by instruments in mystery providentially ordered, for there has been open testimony, and open rebellious opposition. This testimony had been rejected, and the time for mercy, long displayed, now closed.
Judgment was come. The seventh angel sounds. We have not, as yet, any details of the closing dealings of God, by which His wrath is exercised; but it was come. “The worldly kingdom of our Lord,” say the voices in heaven, “and of his Christ are come.” Such is the song which sounds out of heaven. It had been announced, and heaven knew what that trumpet announced. The elders then come in, and, as usual, give the reasons for praise. God is again proclaimed as at the beginning—Jehovah, Elohim, Shaddai, the God of Israel and of the fathers, of the world, of the promise, and of power. Only now He had taken to Him His great power and the kingdom. The nations were angry, but how uselessly! Jehovah’s Messiah and Son would be set up in Zion; the dead would be judged, the prophets and the God-fearing rewarded, and the destroyers of the earth destroyed. It is the general statement of the close of God’s ways; of judgment and of its effects; the government of God made good in its final results.
The time of the dead seems to be taken absolutely, and is a very important element. The time of this world’s activity is not the time of the dead. There is no device or understanding there; but when God’s time comes, it is the time of the dead—but to be judged (only here the Spirit turns more exclusively to what in fact will then come to pass, the case of the saints) and “give the reward unto thy servants, the prophets,” and to all who have been faithful. The order of thought or revelation runs thus: “The nations have got angry, and Thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead to be judged “[or that there may be judgment] “and the reward given,” etc. The force, I apprehend, of the passive form of the verb “to be judged”43 is, that judgment may take place. I should not exclude at all those, properly speaking, judged at the end, the wicked dead. But, save what is done at the beginning of the thousand years, all is given exceedingly abstractedly. What does happen at the beginning precisely? It is not of the dead being judged or for judging the dead, but “the nations angry and Thy wrath come.” This last sentence, though general, is the way God treats the open rebellious anger of the nations. The time of mercy is now closed, and the wrath is come. “The time of the dead “is wholly general; so is “to be judged.” The giving reward is definite, and so is the destroying them who destroy the earth. The objects are precisely named. The first point is the contrast of time. It is not the time of mercy and patience, but of wrath and judgment; also of reward to prophets and the just, and the putting away evil on the earth. I confess this looks little like the precise time of the setting up of Satan’s great power and wrath. It closes the whole unfolding of the seven seals, and the ways of God.
His providential dealings with the earth are now over. His direct governmental dealings now begin. Not that many other events had now to be revealed. Their place had been shewn in the little open book; but they were a new and distinct prophecy, a prophesying again, but still, and yet more clearly and openly, in connection with the Jewish people. The brief summary of the same history brought in in the trumpet period, though the direct object be clearly Jerusalem and Palestine as a centre, is so expressed, that what is called a spiritual application may be made of it. Here, unless in the vaguest generalities, it seems impossible. To this prophesying again, the special religiously viewed result of the last days, I now turn.
The temple of God was opened in heaven. The book was open. It was a direct prophetic revelation of events according to the known tenor of prophecy, when the known relationships of prophecy were renewed, and God occupied Himself according to them with the earth, though it were in judgment. The temple too was opened. Heaven was to be in relationship with the earth; not in the secret way of providence, the bearing of which was revealed as a result, not the things or agents in relationship with God, but in dealings in which the objects were owned; in which, though heaven might be and was wonderfully brought in, God, in His ways, had to say directly to the earth. But then He must, as we have said, have to do with Jews. The ark of His covenant is seen in the temple— God’s infallible connection with the Jewish people, only now according to heavenly counsel, purpose, and perfection. This was accompanied by all the signs of God’s power in judgment with resulting convulsions on the earth, and positive judgment falling on men on the earth.
The vision now begins: what precedes only characterises it. A woman is seen in heaven. All is in divine thought and counsel here, not yet manifestation on the earth. It is as it stands in the divine mind. The woman, as remarked elsewhere, is a state of things, not an agent—a subjective vessel of God’s display of His purposes. Here it is the Jewish people; but they are seen as in the mind of God, clothed with supreme authority, all the mere reflected light of the previous state of Judaism under her feet, and crowned with the emblem of complete authority in man, twelve stars. Twelve is complete ordered rule in man as of God, the stars are the light and witness authority gives, that is, authority viewed in its character of light and moral order. But she was in travail to bring forth. Here was one side of the picture: on the other, the power of evil still having his place in the sphere of power, in heaven— a great red dragon. He had seven heads, completeness in an inward way, constituted completeness in a thing in itself, not in relationship to others; not compounded but constitutive completeness. Seven cannot be divided; it is the highest uncomposed number that cannot. Twelve is the most perfectly divisible of all. I attach no importance to this, save as the way scripture uniformly uses these numbers denotes their character.
The dragon had ten horns, power or kingdoms, very much of it, but not complete; there were not twelve. The heads were sovereigns, were crowned. The dragon had influence over the third part of those subordinate or lesser powers which should have given light and order from God on earth, and had cast them out of this down to a merely earthly, dark and subject condition. They ceased to lighten or govern the earth. He stood to frustrate God’s purposes, and to devour the child of the woman which was in travail. Here we must, properly speaking, see all the church-saints in Christ Himself. If we seek the church in Old Testament prophecy, we shall find only Christ. (Compare Isa. 50 and the end of Romans 8.) Christ is to rule all nations with a rod of iron (Ps. 2). This He has imparted to us, to have it with Him (Rev. 3). Hence the catching up of the man-child is our catching up, too. There is no separating Christ and the church in God’s thoughts and purposes. It would be the head without the body. This then was in the counsels of God; not to make good power in the male child at the beginning, but to have it caught up to God. Next the woman, the Jewish mother of Christ, and, in Him, of the church, has thereon her place in the wilderness. It is not what is united to Christ which has this, but what preceded Him, out of which He sprang. This closes the ordering of the scene and persons; their taking their places in God’s order.
What follows is historical prophecy. There is war in heaven. And the dragon (called the devil and Satan), who deceives the whole world, is cast out of heaven never to return, and his angels with him. This is before the beginning of the twelve hundred and sixty days of the woman’s being in the wilderness. The first dealing of the dragon, before his casting out, was seeking to devour the child; this is met, not by acting on his position or his being cast out, but by the child being caught up. All this embraces the whole time of Christ’s rejection from earth, and being taken up, and our being caught up. Then the saints being with Christ, and the heavenly Man who is to rule complete and with God, after this Satan and his angels are cast out of the place of rule. When cast out (v. 13, 14) he persecutes the woman; and the date on earth begins with the commencement of her staying in the wilderness. Historically, we are only as yet at the time of his being cast out (v. 9); but this casting out of Satan (the angels have nothing to do with this, the heavenly or accusing part) calls out praise and gladness in heaven. In truth it was a great change. Satan was cast out of heaven, and all his deceit and work as in heaven was over for ever. He might raise up the earth in open war against the Lamb, or, subsequently, from all quarters the deceived nations on the earth against the Lamb and the beloved city; but his deceits connected with heaven and his accusations, his carrying on a system pretended to be heavenly, but where his power was developed, His working under the name of the true God, but against the true God, and true Mediator, and true saints—all this was closed for ever. This was the great fact, the blessed and all-important fact, full of rest to the spirit in hope.
But several details must be here entered into for the interpretation of the book. The loud voice which often occurs has the natural force of a great public fact, to which universal attention is called. It carries authoritative announcement from heaven. But we have further to inquire who speaks here; because he says our God and our brethren; and the voice is an abstract idea, so that it does not in itself determine the person or persons who utter it. They are various in the Apocalypse. Here it is not without importance. It is a voice in heaven, yet it is naturally of many— “Our God, our brethren.” It contemplates, however, others on earth who are their brethren. Those who speak have the consciousness of near relationship to God, and celebrate the setting up of the kingdom of their God, and the power of His Christ. Christ, however, is seen in other relationships than with themselves. God was setting up the power of His Christ.
Thus we have three classes or subjects: those whose voices are heard, their brethren, and the kingdom set up. Add to this, that the event they celebrate is followed by the manifestation of a distinct body of persons belonging to God on earth, before the kingdom is established there—the woman and the remnant of her seed. That is, we have those who utter the loud voice, their brethren, and the woman and her seed, subsequent to this period, but before the kingdom on earth. This is important as to the order of events too. Those who celebrate the event with a loud voice are a class already exempt from the difficulties from which the accused ones are only as a class delivered.
The saints who have part in the rapture, as it is customarily called, who form part of the man-child, who are actively associated with Christ, while that association is carried on by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven in its proper power, until the moment that this whole process of union is closed by their going to meet the Lord in the air—these who have their glorified position are corporately placed in it, united to the man-child. These it is who celebrate the deliverance of brethren, just escaped from trial upon earth, associated with heaven; for Christ was not yet manifested for earth, nor the last public trial of His title there begun. Satan had been yet on high till now, to resist before the throne of God the blessing of those whose hearts looked up there, so as to be ready to suffer anything rather than deny the truth and the Lord. Grace had given them the victory. Their victory was martyrdom. Satan accused these saints, and exercised his power from heaven over those that were not saints. He is cast down; this accusing work ceases, and he loses this place of power. Power is exercised in heaven to drive him from this seat of power. The kingdom of God and of His Christ was set up in the seat of power. The effect would follow on earth when the time was come; but the power of the kingdom of God was set up in the sovereign place of authority; for Satan was cast down.
The brethren were the saints who had been on earth, faithful in testimony, between the rapture and the casting-down of Satan. For the church is here looked at as a complete thing in itself (of course united to Christ) before the government part of the book begins. The brethren are the saints of the Apocalypse, whose prayers, for example, were presented (chap. 5), who were under the altar (chap. 6) till now that Satan is cast down. Now all that is in heaven, all who dwell there, can rejoice. There is “peace in heaven,” but, as yet, terrible things on earth. For as yet the king was not yet come there in the name of Jehovah. The saints had been killed, perhaps, by him that had the power of death; yet they had overcome him. So had Christ, who died too. “By the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony,” does not mean their instruments in the warfare, but the cause of the victory. It is (dia to) because of, not (dia tou) through. How far they may have used both is not the question here. But they were in conflict with Satan, the accuser. They did render testimony, and that brought death, as it had the Lamb’s j but His blood and the word of their testimony were the cause of their moral victory, though, as in the body, they might succumb.
There is no fixed time here till the casting-out of Satan, or rather the woman’s flying into the wilderness, which begins the last half-week. Outwardly the ascension is the only point of departure as to time. So it is in Matthew 24. It goes from the ascension to the abomination of desolation as one time, because it speaks only of the remnant’s testimony in Palestine, adding the fact that before the end it would go to all nations; then a precise date in the setting up the abomination of desolation. In Matthew 10, it goes from the mission of the twelve, then setting forth to the coming of the Son of man without any supposed break, leaving out the sending to all nations. For prophecy the church was a mystery. Here then we have the same order as in Matthew 24. But as the church is already gathered and on high and John sees from heaven, we have the additional element of its heavenly apprehension of the effect of the casting-down of Satan. Their brethren’s toils too are closed—the victory won.
We now turn to the present effect on earth. The dragon, thus defeated and cast out, has the consciousness that his time is short, and has great wrath, a source of woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea—of the ordered scene of God’s government and light, and of the general mass of nations. The efforts of the dragon are directed against the woman who brought forth the man-child—against the Jewish people. God grants a mighty and rapid escape from this attempt of Satan. The woman has the eagle-wings. That is, she has no power save of rapid escape, and this she does, and is nourished in the wilderness (deprived of the present resources of the civilised earth) three times and a half (forty-two months, or one thousand two hundred and sixty days) from the face of the serpent. The serpent sought to overwhelm her by a flood of people under his influence, in vain. The earth, the scene of divine order in the world, opened its mouth, and swallowed it up—absorbed, in some way, the flood of people who would have overwhelmed the Jews. But the body to be preserved is removed from the scene of witness; and the dragon proceeds to make war with the remnant of the woman’s seed: those Jews not hidden away with the body, but who kept the commandments of God—godly Jews—and had the testimony of Jesus Christ; that is, the Spirit of prophecy, which speaks of and reveals Jesus, and is His word. This is the Jewish aspect of the scene.
We now turn to what, in the Gentile world, is connected with it, at any rate in what regards Daniel’s monarchies or the beast. The prophet sees a beast rise up out of the sea; the origin of the Roman empire, now viewed however in its end. So it was in chapter 12, where the origin of all in the exaltation of Christ to heaven, and the consequent wilderness state of the Jews as God saw them, was brought forward, but really for their history at the end. Only there the purpose of God, and object of the prophecy in the glory of Israel, is first brought into view, because they were the objects of purpose. The beast is seen as coming out of the mixed mass of peoples. But the heathenish state is not before us. The heads are not crowned, but the horns. The distinct kingdoms subsist, and are in view as such. The seven heads identify it with the Roman empire as a whole, but it took in the previous empires; not necessarily in extent of territory, but it absorbed them, and had the seats of their power in its possession—the horns with the kingdoms into which it had been divided. But now the dragon, Satan’s power in the world, gave it his throne, and power, and great authority. One of the forms of the government of the beast had been slain, but it was healed—I suppose the imperial—and all the earth (not world) was in admiration. They acknowledge the dragon, the prince of the world, in his Roman form. The Latin world revived, and the new revival of it, the beast. “Who was like him? Who able to make war with him?”
But more, the beast, thus in scene, used great words against God. It is the beast of Daniel 7; not only oppressor of men and of saints, but one who exalts himself openly against God. He was to continue forty and two months, the same time the woman was in the wilderness, a half-week. He is then presented to us as active in blasphemy, to blaspheme God’s name and His tabernacle, His heavenly church, and those who dwelt in heaven, all saints who belonged on high and were on high, even if they could not be called the tabernacle of God. The dragon could yet give him a throne upon earth; but he was out of heaven. The beast, inspired by him, could only blaspheme those out of his power and reach. This confirms greatly, its being after the dragon’s being cast down, if that were needed. But earth, for a little and a measured time, was more within his power. He makes war with the saints and overcomes them. Here detail is not given. It is characteristic. From other passages, we know that there will be those slain who will go to heaven; those who, persecuted and driven out, will escape his hand on earth. He has the general dominion of the beasts over kindreds, tongues, and nations. It is remarkable how the Russian and German nationalities are ignored here.44 As a general thing, in the world at large, power belonged to the West, to the beast. Finally, all that dwell on the earth will worship him, save only those written in the Lamb’s book of life. Remark here, that the dwellers upon earth are not an evil class in contrast with what was to be supposed heavenly—the assembly. But the heavenly saints as such being in heaven, all who remain are held dwellers on earth, with the exception of an elect remnant. I have elsewhere remarked, that it is “written,” not “slain,” from the foundation of the world.
All this is more descriptive than historical. It was what was needed. Those who have to do with him know the features of this deadly enemy. If any had an ear, he was to hear. But physical opposition by violence was not God’s way. Power was left with evil till He judged. Then the beast of violence, and his followers, would be killed. Meanwhile they must possess their souls with patience. And here was where their patience and faith would be tried.
But another power, a second beast, rises up; not out of the mass of nations, but out of the ordered scene which has professedly to say to God. He had the forms of Christ’s power, but his voice, to a discerning ear, displayed the dragon. He is the proper Antichrist; false prophet and king in Israel. The heavenly anti-priestly character of Satan was closed by his casting out. He gives the same proof lyingly of his power, and the beast’s title, as Elijah did of the divine supremacy of Jehovah. He makes fire come down from heaven in the sight of men. He exercises all the power of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth, and those dwelling on it, to worship the renewed Roman empire. I do not say he does not deceive the nations; this I suppose 2 Thessalonians 2 proves. Still I find myself here in a specially Jewish circle. In 2 Thessalonians it is more amongst Gentiles, who have not received the love of the truth. They are given over to strong delusions, to believe a lie; and there the signs referred to by Peter, as given by Jesus to prove He was the Christ, are attributed to the man of sin, of course lying ones. Here it is the proof of Jehovah.
But I should doubt that the Gentiles trouble themselves about His being the Christ, save as a rationalist might; but they believe a lie, for they are given up to it. His testimony they will receive of course. A Jewish Christ is not for Gentiles; but in Judea he will be an Antichrist. He denies that Jesus was the Christ, and he denies the Father and the Son. Those who have hated true Christianity willingly accept this, and his other pretensions with it—of course the Jews as well: indeed both his negations and pretensions, so that he takes Antichristian and, withal, Jewish ground. But in connection with Christianity and the truth, it is negative and a lie; while, in Judea and in the world’s scene of government here, we have the positive side (the historical in Daniel 11—the king): he is a false prophet (so found at the end); and here especially, pretending to the royalty of Him that suffered, he is Messiah, the king, but linked with the Satanic power of the revived Roman empire, and setting that up. This goes so far, that he leads the dwellers upon earth to make an image to the beast, and gives breath to it; and it speaks and causes those who would not worship it to be killed.
Thus idolatry is set up, and Gentile power, as set up by Satan, honoured. Times and laws are given into the beast’s hands, and the abomination that causes desolation set up; but the glorious empire protects Jerusalem and God is cast out. All are forced by the second beast to have the stamp, in public avowal or service of the beast, upon them. I cannot but think that the proper subject of the history of the second beast, and here we have history, not merely character, is Palestine—Jerusalem—in connection, no doubt, with the Roman empire but still, centrally, Palestine. The first beast comes up out of the sea at large; the second beast, out of the earth. He shews his power in the sight of men. But those spoken of are not merely characteristically dwellers on the earth, but those who dwell therein, where earth seems land. I see power in Palestine or Judea; deception going wider. The world, as such, was running voluntarily after the beast; but here the setter-up to be Messiah, the king, compels them to own and worship him. There was not readiness to do this where he was. Still, in general, while power was in the hands of the first beast, deception and wickedness were exercised by the second. The result would be the blasphemous renewal of the Latin empire, with general power over the world, blaspheming against God and persecuting the saints; and in Palestine, a false Messiah, denying Christianity altogether, and the claims of Jesus Christ, who deceives men by false miracles, leads them under his power, and sets up an image of the beast, and forces them to subject themselves openly and avowedly to the beast, and that with extreme governmental tyranny. He enchains men in his deceptions, and has his local character and sphere in Palestine. It is not difficult to conceive one setting up to be Messiah, having power in Palestine, and also religiously deceiving men in general.
Such is the last scene of the prophetic world, as far as under the original beasts’ power, the times of the Gentiles. We have now the intervention of God in respect of this power, and of all evil. But first we must have the earthly saints owned, as before the heavenly ones. The prophet sees a Lamb standing on Mount Zion. He who suffered takes His royalty, and particularly the royalty on Mount Zion or of David, and with Him companions of the royal sufferer, 144,000, with His Father’s name written on their foreheads. Having suffered like Him, they are associated with Him in the royal place of earthly glory. They have the place in principle, in which Christ was revealed on earth. He was Lamb, but revealed His Father’s name. They, though late, had taken this place, and they had His Father’s name on their foreheads. It is not said, “their Father’s”; that is, they had not had the Spirit of adoption on the earth; but they had walked in the Lamb’s steps, who had this relationship, viewed as born on earth. They were associated with the Lamb, who was to reign as king on the holy hill of Zion, and held His title by that word, “Thou art my Son: this day have I begotten Thee”; that Son whom all the kings and judges of the earth were to kiss, or perish.
But there is connection now with heaven. It is the Lord from heaven, who establishes the throne in Zion, where His followers are seen anticipatively; for the throne is not seen there yet. But the voice of glory and of praise sounds from heaven. They sing as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and before the elders. This is a remarkable statement; for who are the singers? There is a general idea (as in chap. 5:9), “there was sung.” Still there is here added, “before the beasts and elders.” So that we have another class of singers. It is in no way the song of the church-saints. Those who sing, sing before them. The church-saints are viewed apart, identified in position with the throne.
As contrasted with chapter 5:9, we have power, might, praise; that is the public testimony of this, but no priestly intercession, nor reason given for distinct praise. The celebration of in-coming power is in its place here. The intimacy of worship, service, and priesthood belonged to the living creatures or elders. What was heard from heaven now was the former. This the 144,000 could learn. They had gone through the tribulation on earth, and could understand the heavenly song of this kind, though not the beasts’ and elders’ association with the throne. It would seem to be the heavenly and earthly portions of those faithful after the rapture of the church; some in heaven who praised there; others, who having faithfully passed through the same circumstances, can learn their song though on earth. These last are the firstfruits of earth (not the church, but for the millennial earth before the harvest), firstfruits to God and the Lamb; that is, to God as known in the display of government, which is the subject of this book. They had not been mixed up with the Jezebel, or Babylon, or heathenly idolatrous systems, which had gone on; their hearts were fresh for God. Nor was there guile in their mouth; they were without fault; they had been kept pure, and pure (truthful) in heart from all by which Satan had seduced men.
Next, in these ways of God, the everlasting gospel is sent out into the earth and every nation before the judgment comes. Such is ever God’s way. It is not the special witness of heavenly salvation and the church, but the old glad-tidings belonging to the course of God’s dealings with the earth— that the Seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head, and the kingdom and final blessing be brought into the creation. Hence men were warned of the judgment just coming in, and called to own Him who made heaven and earth.
Next, the fall of Babylon is announced—the idolatrous fornicating system; but the beast was not yet destroyed.
Hence, in the fourth testimony of God’s ways, or third angel (for the first was not the acting of God, but the manifestation to the prophet of those who had been previously faithful, and had a special place)—in the fourth testimony men are warned, that if they own the beast they will have God’s wrath. Those who had rejected the beast had been exposed to his wrath; now, God’s judgment was just coming in, and woe to those who owned the beast. Here was the trial of the saints’ faith.
This closed the testimony of God, nor would any more now be killed for the faith, but the dead receive the public reward of their works. It is not the church’s special place which is noticed here, but the condition of those who have died in the Lord, as connected with this book. I doubt not that all departed saints will come in; but the direct occasion is the closing of the time of suffering on the earth, and the public reward of labour in the appearing of Jesus.
Hence the Lord is immediately introduced, coming in the cloud. And the two following and closing testimonies give the double character of His judgment. The Son of man comes crowned, with a sharp reaping sickle. The earth is reaped. Here He gathers in judgment on the earth, that is, the mixed wicked ones are dealt with in judgment, the righteous are spared, and the wicked taken by the judgment.
But there was another character of judgment—that which had a special religious character. It is not the earth was reaped—the judgment of the general state of the world, the population as it stood in the earth; but that which, before God and at Jerusalem, held a religious character—had, however apostate, been the seat of religious profession and fruit-bearing in the earth—what Israel had been of old: Christ alone on the earth in truth, by a certain analogy the professing church for a length of time, and lastly Israel joined with Antichrist, and the beast (in religious matters) at the close. In this last state, it was judged; and here there was no sparing, as in harvest: all was cast into the wine-press of God’s wrath.
Thus we have, with the counsel of God as to Israel, the whole history of the period from the ascension of the Lord, and of the church to be with Him, to the public destruction of His apostate enemies on the earth. The heavenly church is only seen as caught up—and the history is the history of what passes afterwards, till all is closed, essentially of the last half-week of the beast, and God’s actings on the earth during the same period. This is a complete portion in itself.
In chapter 15 we have another distinct revelation, complete in chapters 15 and 16, but a part of which is developed in chapters 17 and 18, The general subject is expressly the seven last plagues, in which the wrath of God is filled up, closing with the destruction of Babylon before the marriage of the Lamb and His public manifestation in the earth. But, before their pouring out, the spared remnant are seen secure. The 144,000 were Jews who, faithful in the time of trial, had a place with Christ in His earth by royalty. These, in chapter 15 are not Jews—“them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image.” And, without excluding a Jew to whom it might apply, these having been noticed in chapter 14, it applies essentially to Gentiles. The reader will remark another thing—chapters 12-14 are of far wider extent. It reaches from the rejection and ascension of Christ, to His appearing, and executing judgment, and includes, as a period, all that is here, and far beyond. This, the special judgments of God (not of the Lamb) within that period, and towards its close.
God is celebrated as the King of nations. The song sung is in connection with God and the Lamb. It is again Jehovah, Elohim, Shaddai, exacting judgment in righteousness on the earth, and on the Gentile power which had oppressed His people. Hence the song of Moses; but it was withal the victory of the rejected Lamb. God’s ways were shewn in it (of old, only shewn to Moses, His works to the people), but now made manifest, and that not to mere destruction, like that of Pharaoh, but to bringing the nations—all nations—to come and worship Jehovah, whose judgments have been made manifest. For the earth this is all of the last importance. It is the result of all its history.
A word as to the place where the overcomers are found. They are on the sea of glass mingled with fire. They are not sitting on thrones round the throne, nor have they suffered previous to the manifestation of the beast’s power, at any rate had not been martyrs and brought to heavenly joy, before the half-week of his power came. But they had gotten the victory over him, his mark, and every form of subjection to him. They had been purified and saved—still through fire. They stood on what was the sign of purity—the sea of glass. When it was water, it was the sign of purifying; but here it is the result, and it is purity; but they had passed through the fire of God’s judicial tribulation to obtain it. These are the owned ones of God, the overcomers, even to death, of the time of the beast’s power, having part in the first resurrection.
After the vision of these the preparation for the execution of God’s judgment comes. It is not, as in chapter n:19, the ark of God’s covenant, His sure relationship with Israel; yet it is immediately connected with it, and in view of that people. The “testimony” means strictly the two tables of the law. Thence even the ark, as enclosing them, was called so. It was the throne of God withal, who had this as the testimony and witness of His governmental requirements in the world. The sprinkling of blood on it made it a true propitiatory; but with that we have nothing to do here. The house is opened, not to look into it, to see covenant-relationship with Israel, but for the seven angels to come out with judgments on those who had heeded neither the throne nor the rule according to which the throne judged. It was the house of the tabernacle of the testimony. It was not Christ as Lord who was coming out, but providential ministers of God’s power.
We can readily understand how these vials were the expression of the judgment of the throne of the Lord God Almighty— of the wrath of Him who never changes, and must, according to the testimony of what He is, put down corruption and iniquity and oppression on the earth. It was not yet giving the throne to Christ to govern as Prince of peace in righteousness, but it was providentially the righteous judgment of the throne of God; and this, though coming from heaven (for the throne was not yet established on earth), yet was associated with the whole character of the testimony given when the earthly throne was set at Jerusalem. The nations would come and fear the God revealed in the Old Testament, Jehovah, Elohim, Shaddai, for His judgments were manifested. His earthly throne had been, we know, in Jerusalem, and would be again in Christ. This judgment characterised the whole scene. God displayed His glory in this way, so that none could approach Him; as when the cloud was on the temple in Solomon’s time.
The judgments fall on the same spheres of human existence (only not solely the third part, or Roman empire) as the first four trumpets, save that, instead of destroying the prosperity of society and the great of the earth, the first judgment falls on the men who had received the mark of the beast, bringing them into a wretched and distressing state. The next judgment falls on the mass of the peoples; and all who abandoned God, that is, in profession, died. Then all the sources of popular influence, which characterised peoples and nations, became deathful. What they drank in was death, the principle of alienation from God. In the fourth, the supreme power on the earth became consuming and oppressive in the highest degree. These, like the first four trumpets (as it was of the seals, too) stand apart from the last three, which have a peculiar though judicial character. Penal judgment falls on the throne of the beast. The Euphrates being dried up, the way of the kings of the East is prepared, and the kings of the world are gathered, by the threefold form of evil, for judgment; and, finally, Babylon is brought to remembrance for the cup of wrath, while convulsions rock the earth, and judgment from above provokes their rage. This last vial was poured out into the air, the whole circumambient influence that acts on men.
The judgment on the beast’s throne (fifth vial) is felt in the extent of his empire. His enterprises are not arrested, but his kingdom is full of darkness, and “they gnaw their tongues for pain.” And now the forces are gathered for the great final battle of good and evil. The principle of Satan’s power as the enemy of Christ in the Latin empire—the renewed form of imperial power—and the false Messiah in Palestine, a prophet-king—are the sources of this gathering power. They promote and proclaim the principles that gather. It is a notable fact here that the excessively miserable state of the beast’s kingdom does not hinder his pushing his war against the Lamb. Under the influence of these three spirits of evil the apostate armies are gathered to the battle of the great day of God Almighty, the final conflict of good and evil—heaven and earth. I suppose Armageddon refers to Judges 5:19, 20. This gives occasion to the solemn warning to the world that the Lord was just coming as a thief. When the seventh vial is poured out, there was a universal subversive convulsion, such as never had been in the world. And the great city, the public confederation of the civilised earth was broken up into three parts; and Babylon came into remembrance, to give her the cup of the fierceness of God’s wrath. The details of her judgment are in chapter 18. Men were plagued with the terrible judgments of God falling on them; but they only blasphemed His name. We have three parts of the effect of this final judgment of God: the city is divided into three, the cities of the nations fall, and Babylon comes into remembrance. The great city I have alluded to is the practically unified association of European civilisation; the other centres of social life fell. Babylon is the third. It is more particularly Western civilisation viewed in connection with its corrupt religious side.
We are now arrived at the important chapters which describe the connection of Babylon with the beast, and the destruction of the former. One of the ministers of God’s judgments calls the prophet to see the judgment of the great whore who sits on many waters, that is, the grand corruptress of religion, who turns away souls from the truth of God, exercising widespread influence over the masses of population. The kings of the earth had had intercourse with her, cultivated it in this prostitution of Christianity; and the inhabitants of the earth—those settled in the sphere of the civilised order where God’s ways and dealings were known, had been mentally steeped, besotted with this corruption of Christianity. Rich as all was to man’s eye, and pious, and religious, to the Spirit all was wilderness, desolation, and drought—anything but the garden of God. She sits on a scarlet-coloured beast, the imperial Roman power in its last blasphemous form. She herself was enriched with luxury, power, and splendour; in her hand a cup of gold, full of that with which she corrupted and made drunk the earth. To a spiritual eye her character was stamped upon her forehead, though a mystery to those who were not. She was judged, however, as a mystery by the spiritual man; that is, he was spiritual enough to judge her— saw how, if unrevealed, her true character was not understood. She was the heir, as the great moral characterising capital of the world, of that great city, which first was the seat of idolatry antagonistic of the true God, the fertile source of all corruptions of primitive Christianity, and of all idolatries in the earth. She was drunk with the blood of persecution in a double character; first of saints, and then of the witnesses of Jesus. This was the character of her who rode. The riding it, or the time of that, was a distinct thing—the saints she could not bear—the witnesses of Jesus she could not bear. The prophet was astonished at seeing her. This astonishment clearly intimates, I think, something special and extraordinary. And so it is, that what should call itself the church should be drunk with the blood of the saints. The foolish notion of the rationalists (and what have they taught, that is not foolishness?) that all this is the history of Pagan Rome, makes this astonishment without any sense. It is Rome, but Rome under special circumstances.
Here the reader will remark what aids us in the apprehension of these symbols, that the beast, now that the explanation is given to the prophet, wholly fills this scene. At the close, we find the destruction of the woman, and who she is. Her name at the beginning of the chapter had fully told what she was; her own character as such, independent of the beast, though seen sitting on the beast. Verses 5 and 6 give the proper character of the woman herself. When I come to the history of the beast, though identified with the whole Roman empire, I get the special history of its last form—of the very last days, and of the fact that, as beast it had ceased to exist, yet was found again. The woman may have been all that she was described in verses 5, 6, while the beast was not.
But we have now to consider the beast in its full description, as seen at the end. The beast carries her. No doubt she thus exercises influence over him, but it is not her strength. She sits on him, but he carries her; and to the beast the prophet now at once turns. It is the seven-headed ten-horned beast, known as the old Roman but now ten-horned beast. But its character is followed out more precisely. It was—is not— and is going to ascend out of the bottomless pit and go into destruction. It had been, it had ceased to exist, and at the end it would ascend out of the bottomless pit—have a distinctly devilish character. In this it is we have seen him persecute and slay the witnesses; in this he goes into destruction. The deadly wound the beast had received in one of his heads was healed, but now he was in his last form going into perdition. All but the elect pay homage to him in this last form, seeing the beast, which had ceased to exist, now present again. This gives in general, the history and character of the beast.
But there are more particulars as to the heads. The seven heads have a double application: first they are seven mountains, on which the woman sits. We may learn here how, while giving much more light as to facts, a symbol cannot be literally taken. The woman was sitting on the beast. So Rome is seated on seven hills, as well as on the Roman empire by its influence. But, besides this, the heads of the beast were seven forms of power which characterised it. Five had already passed away when the angel spoke to the prophet; one was existing, the imperial form. Another was to come and subsist for only a short time (perhaps Napoleon I; in the protracted system, Charlemagne); and then an extra head, the last beast, but which is the same as one of the seven; in which form the head and beast, and all is destroyed. Seven complete the form.
But the beast that reappears after ceasing to exist, the renewed Roman empire, with its confederate vassal kingdoms, is a distinct and special existence of the beast, a resurrection form of the Roman empire come out of the bottomless pit, Satanic—a substantial devilish existence, in which, though peculiar in form, the Roman empire reappeared, that is, the Western, as the empire historically was. In this state the beast would be destroyed. The ten horns did not exist at the time the vision was given, but would subsist one same period with the beast the prophet had before his eyes, that is, the beast in his last Roman form. These ten kingdoms would give their power and influence to the beast—would exist, but play entirely into his hands.
But this brings us to a point of the greatest importance. The formation of this beast, the empire or imperial head of power with the ten helping kingdoms, brings evil up to the point of open war on the part of the kingdoms, with the Lamb who now appears again. Here the kings are mentioned as making war, because the object is to give the character at this time of the great body of nations which form Western Europe. In the end of chapter 19 we find the beast who is at their head engaged in the war, but the ten kingdoms shall make war with the Lamb. But the Lamb shall overcome them, for He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Here we have, not the governmental dealings of God by angelic power, or in a providential way, but the Lamb Himself manifesting His power to the destruction of those who rise up against Him. But He is not alone. They that are with Him are called, chosen, faithful—the saints of God, not angels (though they may be too); angels are not called—with this war they have not to do. Of the waters we have already spoken. It is the influence of Rome over the populations.
Finally, the ten horns and the beast shall hate the whore, make her desolate and naked, and eat her flesh and burn her with fire. I think that this statement marks that the beast and the kingdoms’ dealings with her are not instantaneous destruction in an historical point of view. God’s final judgment at the end may be. They hate her. It is a change of mind and feeling which takes place as to her, and makes desolate and naked. There is progress in this: they deal actively with her; next they eat her flesh. This is more—they make her contemptible, expose her first; then deprive of her wealth and possessions, what formed her personal body; finally destroy herself, burn her with fire. They join the beast in this. Their mind, what was unnatural for these kingdoms, which might have been jealous of the beast, is governed by God, to unite all of them to give their kingdom and power to the beast; but this was not giving it to the woman. And the beast, being a power on his own score, they join in destroying the whore. The prophet then states in the distinctest language that it was Rome.
I think, then, that the statements as to Babylon imply a human desertion and confiscation of wealth first, and then the utter destruction. To this, I judge, chapter 18 answers. It is a distinct vision; the display of power, not Christ, God’s instrumental glory, yet signally displayed—he had great power, and the earth was lightened with his glory. The second verse, I apprehend, to be, not the finally utter destruction of what had been glorious Babylon, though anticipative of it in her evidently losing her pre-eminent place and fair show. “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit.” This was not yet her ceasing to exist, though to exist in power and rule it was. Yet, I apprehend, this is only the general announcement of her judgment, when she loses her place of power; just as in chapter 12 salvation and the kingdom was announced when Satan was precipitated from heaven. She had had the supremacy, by her idolatries and fornications, over the beast and the horns; she was now a cast-off harlot, degraded and fallen; and the beast is the leading power. The details then follow, where her burning with fire is not the first and immediate thing.
But before the final judgment (but I think, applicable at all times, when the character of Babylon is spiritually seen), God’s people are urgently called to come out of her, that they may not partake in her sins, and so in her plagues. Hence, I think, the absence of precision is notable here, and like all difficulties in scripture, introductory to light. The time of destruction is precise enough. It is at the close of God’s judgments, and before the coming forth of the Lamb. It is when the seventh angel has poured his vial into the air, for final judgment on the part of God (chap. 16:17-19), and before the rising up of the beast and his armies against the Lamb coming from heaven as King of kings and Lord of lords. But the woman, as to her place and seat, could be pointed out to John then: not her state (chap. 17:18). And if there was spirituality enough to discern, the mystery could be left (perhaps at the expense of life—all the blood of saints was found in her) at all times; chap. 18:4.
But there is a special character and special time, the character that she rides the beast with seven heads and ten horns. A long while she contended, so to speak, with the beast, or it was wounded to death, and she took practically its place. Towards the end (having seduced the horns for years and centuries—her habitual character—and made the people drunk), she rides the beast, the beast having taken a blasphemous character, the woman drunken with the blood of saints. The beast had been, was not, and then appears again. The elements may have been there before, but when the subject of the vision is complete, you have ten horns during the same period with the beast, and at first the woman riding it, I suppose in this state, but I am not yet quite clear upon this point, when the beast has ascended out of the bottomless pit, that is, is directly under the guidance and influence of Satan. At first I have said, the woman rides the beast; but this changes, she loses her influence and power, and is deprived of her wealth and everything, and destroyed; and the beast acts, the horns having done with the woman, giving all their power to the beast in open opposition to the Lamb. The heavenly voice must be heard to get out of Babylon.
We may remark, that the saints are seen here entirely on governmental and, in this sense, Jewish grounds. Not that they are Jews; I speak of the spirit. They are called out to execute wrath. I do not at all believe any saints on earth do this work. Here the horns and the beast do it. But these judgments are the avenging of God’s people, their cry has brought it. They rejoice in it as righteous judgment in their favour. Verse 6 is not, I think, an appeal to the saints to act necessarily (the “you” is left out after “rewarded”), but it is in the mind of the prophet in thinking of them. Evil comes suddenly on Babylon, though her burning is not the first thing; still I doubt not it is very rapid; famine for one literal day would not be much, but it comes in one day— “and she shall be burned with fire.” The cry of this self-styled civilised world—all the classes of modern civilisation—is, however, on her burning. The ten horns are the ten kingdoms. The ten kings are the kings of those kingdoms which had committed fornication with her; these mourn, as all those interested in modern civilisation. The fall and the final ruin of this great system, of which Rome was the centre, is a grief and pain to them. The apostles and prophets rejoice: God has avenged them on her. Terrible judgment for her who had professed alone to have their teaching! Babylon would be violently thrown down, and not found any more. This is in allusion to Jeremiah 51, which I refer to as shewing that it is met by ordinary providential judgment—here perhaps, more summarily than ancient Babylon. Note the whole system of Western papal Europe is not punished for, but in, its wealth and civilisation.
No doubt this slighted Christianity had an apostate character —would order and moralise and embellish the world excluding Christ; but the idolatrous character of Rome was the cause of judgment. The nations, deceived by her sorceries, had turned wholly to this world, and their moral condition was met by a judgment falling on this state of civilisation and prosperity. There is no judgment on the merchants and kings and navigators; but they mourn the loss of the great city. The system is all broken up with her. The royal commercial civilised world falls with the upset of Rome, the people’s power not: but it is given to the beast.
But another secret was found there by divine light: the blood of prophets and saints, and of all the slain upon the earth. She had corrupted the earth with her sorceries; this, though mysterious, was hardly a secret; but Babylon had inherited the sad place of fallen Jerusalem. The blood of saints, and prophets, was all of it found in her. Religion without God is the cruellest and most relentless enemy of all testimony to God. But she who was essentially characterised by this in the world, in whom all the blood of the slain was found, was now in her final judgment utterly and for ever destroyed.
In chapter 19, I find, for the first time, a reason for praise given by others than the elders or body of saints, the church called up on high. But there this is intelligible because they praise for accomplished judgments, in which they are avenged. The elders and beasts only fall down, saying “Amen”; and worship. Those who praise speak of the salvation and power and glory of our God; so that they are in heaven as His heavenly saints, who are not the elders or beasts. They have suffered, and are in the place to celebrate the avenging of the blood of God’s servants. Compare the souls under the altar, in chapter 6. Their joy is that Babyjon is judged, and in fact, her smoke goes up continually.
God is here praised as on the throne, not as He that liveth for ever and ever. He is seen in government. A voice out of the throne then goes forth, but which associates him who speaks with the saints below. “Praise our God.” I suppose that it is the voice of Christ; but what characterises it is that it comes out of the throne. It is a summons to praise, addressed from this centre of authority to all the servants, and whoever feared His name. We shall see the subject of it in their praise, which, on this summons, sounds forth as thunder. I should say “subjects,” for there are two distinct, though connected, ones. Jehovah-Elohim-Shaddai is the subject of praise, according to the summons, “our God”; and the praisers are viewed as servants and fearers of His name, not the church or children as such. On the other hand if this thought be just, and it is the Lord, we see Christ associating Himself with the whole company of singers in heaven, not bearing the character of the church, and we get an insight into their place. The two subjects of the song are— “the Lord God omnipotent reigneth, and the marriage of the Lamb is come.” One is “Hallelujah”; the other, “let us be glad and rejoice.” These two indeed are, as to the setting up of divine government, the great elements of its establishment, direct and accessory in God’s counsels. The Lord God omnipotent, Jehovah-Elohim-Shaddai, the names of the Old Testament, are revealed in power. He has set aside all that He, as God, judged of corruption, and now was actually introducing Christ as King of kings, and Lord of lords, before whom the beast’s power was to disappear.
But, further, He must have His bride, His spouse. No doubt His rule goes farther, but that is not the subject here. But the church must be associated with Him when He takes the power and the rule. He could not be alone in it, though He alone has the power and the rule. We have thus, in these verses, the source, Him whose authority He represents and wields, and the associate by the counsels of God; not yet the actual ruler coming forth—the Lord God omnipotent, and the Lamb’s wife. The marriage of the Lamb was come, this purpose of God now accomplished, or in the act of being so; and “His wife had made herself ready.” She was arrayed in fine linen, the righteousness of saints. Note, that this individual excellency adorns the whole church. We have then, indeed, another class—assistants, those called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb—I suppose all the saints gone up, save the church.
This closed the revelation here. The angel talking with John declares that these were the true sayings of God, and forbids the homage he was disposed to offer. He was a fellow-servant, and of those who had the testimony of Jesus; for the angels must serve Him. And (what might have been called in question, because of its different character, from the usual manner of the Holy Ghost acting as the witness of Jesus in the church), “the Spirit of prophecy was the testimony of Jesus.” The proper testimony of Jesus was that of the apostles and Paul, and the Holy Ghost, in the church; but this prophetic part was the testimony of Jesus too.
Now heaven opens again. It opened on Jesus as Son of man and Son of God in the Gospels, the object of divine delight. It was opened to Stephen when the Son of man was standing on the right hand of God in heaven, which is the christian state. And it is now opened for Jesus to come out as King of kings, and Lord of lords, to execute judgment and justice on the earth. Triumphant power as the operation of God first appears, and characterises the vision—a white horse. But there was one that sat on it called “Faithful”; such He had ever been, at all cost, to God, in the testimony of righteousness, in glorifying Him even to death, that His name might be made good. Obedient till it was given to Him to rise up and take the power, and “true,” so that the witness of God which He did render was a perfect witness of all God was, and all His thoughts. His name was “Faithful and True.” “Holy and True” was His name for Philadelphia, for us. This was what was subjectively needed for us—but now rewarded, and He coming forth as the faithful and true One. He now does not serve but judges in righteousness, and makes war on the power of evil in the same righteousness. His eyes had the piercing discerning power of judgment, many crowns were on His head.
But there was an essential glory in His person—a relationship to God which none knew but Himself. A name in God is a revelation of what He is, and in general of what He is in relation to others, as Almighty, Father. A name in one who takes a place under God is what He is towards God, or for Him. We have a name on the white stone which no one knows but he who has it. It is our special place and relationship in the favour of Jesus. So has Christ here. He has public names made good in all His ways, or displayed in glory; but He has also what is the expression, in that glory, of His secret relationship with the Father which none knew but He Himself. It is not without interest to have the analogy of our associations with Christ and His own in glory.
But other signs of what He was and other names remained yet to be noticed. He had a vesture dipped in blood. He came as the avenger. He tramples now the wine-press of God’s wrath. It is not in the lowliness of humiliation, and to be trodden down by man that He comes; He comes to tread down in power. With this is associated another name— “The Word of God.” “Faithful and True” would make good promises. The Word of God reveals God, but now in judgment according to what He had revealed Himself to be. “The word that I have spoken unto you, the same shall judge you in the last day.” He was the Word of God, the perfect expression of that nature, which must have everything subject to itself. He was it when the expression of it awakened all the hostility of the flesh which hated the light. Still He made it good in this humiliation at all cost. He was it, declared God’s righteousness and truth in the great congregation, did not refrain His lips. “I am altogether what I am also saying to you”— “the Word of God”: but now, in judgment, making good this in power and vengeance against rebellious men, the children of disobedience to wisdom’s voice. The armies which were in heaven followed Him. These had not the signs of treading the wine-press on them, but of declared accepted practical righteousness, while partakers of the triumph. They were on white horses also, but clothed in fine linen, white and clean. Next, the sword of the word goes out of His mouth to smite the nations. This is general. He judges by His word. Further, Psalm 2 is now fulfilled. He rules them with a rod of iron. The wine-press is the unmingled fierceness and wrath of Almighty God, which He executes. Lastly, He has on that which shews His public character in the world, His clothing, the title which He now takes in the world— “King of kings and Lord of lords.” I do not know what the meaning of “on his thigh” is, unless the clothing be His bearing it in peaceful government, and His thigh, His bearing when He makes Himself bare for war.
The summons of verses 17 and 18 seem to be general. The angel stands in the place of universal and supreme authority, and summons the fowls of the air to the supper of the great God. I do not see that it specifically refers to the beast here; verse 19 does. We come back in it to the history of the beast. The kings of the earth are first, the ten kings. I cannot say that it is absolutely confined to them, but, I suppose, those under the influence of Rome. They come to make war against Christ and His heavenly armies. Satan had raised up the earth, into which he had been cast, against heaven. The issue was not doubtful. Deceive he may—never conquer. Both the beasts of chapter 13 (the second, now seen as false prophet) are taken, and cast into the lake of fire—its first victims. The rest are slain with the sword of Him that sat on the horse, the direct execution of judgment was Christ’s alone; this was outward present judgment. The invited guests were satiated with prey. These armies of the beast formed, at any rate, a prominent part at this great supper of God. But this was not all. This was the public judgment of men by Him who was King of kings and Lord of lords.
But God was dealing in power after another manner, by divine, and to us unseen, instrumentality. An angel comes down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit, and a great chain in his hand—figures, of course. The dragon or serpent, the devil or Satan, the power of evil is laid hold of, bound for a thousand years, and cast into the prison that belongs to his nature, whence he cannot act on the earth: not the place of divine torment and punishment. Out of that he cannot come. But he was shut up, and a seal put upon him, so that he cannot deceive the nations till the thousand years of his confinement are over. After that he will be loosed a little season.
We are thus arrived at the beginning of the thousand years. Babylon, the mother of harlots, the corrupt worldly church on the earth, judged; making way for the heavenly one fully associated with Christ in the heavens. Professing worldliness done away, Satan’s seat under the garb of Christianity. The beast, the power of antagonist evil, on the earth with the false prophet who had stirred it up in Jewish and Antichristian shape, is cast into the lake of fire. Satan is bound and shut up. Thus the source, and all the forms of evil, of corruption and violence, idolatry and apostasy, were swept away. This is a great act of powerful and mighty judgment. The storm of God has passed over the earth, and laid low all that opposed itself to it.
The thrones can now be occupied for judgment. Previously it was judgment in the way of war; now the session of right. It is not simply the throne. In Daniel 7 the thrones were set, but the Ancient of days alone is seen sitting, and thereupon the beast is judged, the Ancient of days Himself coming to execute it as we have seen here. (Compare Rev. 19:16 and 1 Tim. 6:14-16.) But now there are sitters on the thrones: amongst these, two classes are mentioned who might have seemed otherwise not to have had their place there—the witnesses slain for the testimony, and those who would neither worship the beast nor own him. All reigned with Christ a thousand years. All this is very simple. This composed the first resurrection, for there was another. A general resurrection is a thing wholly unknown to scripture.
This first resurrection fixed the state of those who had part in it. The second death had no claim on them. They are priests of God and of Christ. Note here, the language is all literal, we are out of the symbolical language of the book. This once seen, the following verses require, in this short sketch of the book, few remarks to be made. The saints reign a thousand years with Christ over the earth. Satan is again let loose, deceiving the nations on earth (he never returns to heaven), and gathering them together against the camp of the saints and the beloved city (Jerusalem). Judgment from God then closes the scene on earth. The working of Satan had separated between saints and the unconverted, who had remained mixed up together when no temptation was there. The devil is now cast from earth into the lake of fire, being finally judged, as before cast out of heaven and then subsequently shut up.
After this the great white throne of judgment is set. It was not now government; though in that there might be final righteous retribution—the judgment of the quick, as indeed it was as to the living who had rejected the testimony in Matthew 25, and of the beast and false prophet. But the present judgment was that of the secrets of men’s hearts, and their answering for their works. Thus the saints had no part in it. Death and hades wholly lost their power, and for ever. This is the second death. Death and hades, being the power of evil in its effects, ceased to have a provisional and separate existence. That power which they exercised is now merged in the complete judgment. Death was death; it is fixed in the second. Hades is the closing up the soul in unseen darkness and separation from the light of life. As far as its effect on the natural man went, this was done, and finally, in the lake of fire. All that was in any way associated with death as an instrument referred to living man, that is, to man in the responsibility of the first Adam; all this was cast into final condemnation and separation from God—the most terrible of punishments. The second death had absorbed the first. Those who had escaped it were in the power of life in Christ. Satan, who had had the power of death, was himself under the power of this in the lake of fire. Whoever had not life in Christ was there too.
This closes the scene of this busy world—closes it finally, and for ever. In the first eight verses of the next chapter (21) we have the wholly new creation, where God is all in all: a new earth and a new heaven, and no more sea. Some remarks are called for here. And, first of all, how little is revealed! The course and judgment of the state we are in, and the glory of the heavenly city, is so largely; but of the post-millennial state scarcely anything, save some great general principles, which mainly bear upon our present condition. “Sea” bears a general notion of what remains vague and unreclaimed, unsubject to man, not reduced into any order, or regularised relationship to God or amongst men. This exists no more. I suppose fully this will be physically true, and many appropriate physical changes would be associated with it; but into this I do not venture myself. Atmosphere would cease—human life, by breathing and blood. I refrain, the rather, as it is simply negative, and, I think, meant to be so. The imperfect waste of tumultuous separation would have no existence there. All would be connected and in order. Further we get the heavenly city (the Lamb’s bride, the-assembly) coming down to be the tabernacle of God amongst men—not a special people, but the glorified church, the seat of His power and presence amongst men. It is not said how these are changed to be ever there, or what their peculiar state. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor corruption inherit incorruption. More we cannot say: only God “dwells with” (not “tabernacles over,” as in chapter 7) men. They are His people, and He Himself shall be with them and their God. The whole family of man, redeemed men, have this relationship, such, after all, as angels, cannot boast of; though more glorious in other respects, they are never called His people. Previous orderings of this, such as Israel and the temple, were only premonitory and preparatory to this great and blessed position. But His temple we are. The church never loses its own proper and peculiar place, but the two forms of blessing—the temple or tabernacle, the dwelling-place of God, and the people of God, positions brought out in the church and Israel—are maintained for ever. Only Israel was more figurative and passing than the assembly, because it was in flesh, the church not. All sorrow would here have ceased for ever.
This reproduction and connection of the two systems of Israel and the church is full of interest, and gives a great moral importance to each. In their nature they last for ever. But it is in perfect peace and joy—the former things are passed away. All, save the fact of eternal life, is provisional now. They are ways, dealings of God with what is creation and failing, an admirable occasion of the display of His grace and all He is, but not in and for itself as such, the fruit of His absolute and only work, what He has produced. Now it is— “Behold I make all things new.” Sorrow He owns, and wipes away its tears. It was a right thing in the disorder of sin. Christ was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Death was there too; and Christ, in grace, underwent death. He must come divinely under all that evil had brought in, that God might be owned as forgiving it, glorified as to it, and good have the victory over all evil. This made His work so profound and glorious, so complete in itself, and for the glory of God, whence man in Him has entered into the divine glory: so He states it in John 13:31, connecting it with previous glory in chapter 17:4, 5.
I return to my remarks on the passage. There are a new heaven and a new earth, and no more sea. I do not look for more than the atmospheric heaven here—the connected system of heaven (not heavens) and earth, Ephesians and Colossians heavens, here heaven—the first were passed away. The second verse, I take as characteristic—the city was the true holy city, New Jerusalem; it was not human or earthly. It came down from God—out of heaven, and prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, fit for Christ as to what she was appareled in, still characteristic, not historic. The bride was married long ago, before the heaven and earth passed away; verses 3-5 already noticed are the earthly character and state of things: God’s tabernacle with men, they His people, and He their God, and with them. He wipes away all tears—they belonged to the former state. Death is no more; that, too, belonged to the former state. Sorrow, crying, pain, are all gone; they were former things. Verse 8 closes the statement, and applies it to conscience now. It is the God who sat on the throne, but now His working and ways are done. He is the beginning and end of all. Two principles are thus stated as belonging to His ways: first, whoever is athirst gets of the water of life freely; secondly, he that overcomes shall inherit all things. God will be his God, and he will be His son. The free power of life is to the comer, the blessing to the overcomer. But, if there was giving way through fear, unbelief, and sin, the lake of fire, the second death, was their portion—not death because of sin in Paradise, not terrible judgments on the earth, but the second death because of casting away and rejecting the truth when grace had come in.
This closes the history of the book. What follows is a description of the heavenly city when the Lamb is there; and His glory made manifest. It is the city, but the city in its millennial relationships with the earth. It is presented, too, in the character of millennial association, not of the verses 1-8, last considered. It is the bride, the Lamb’s wife. It is description, not history, which, as often remarked, closes in verse 8. The description is given here as that of Babylon (chap. 17). The prophet gets, figuratively, a vantage point of view, like Moses, and like the Lord Himself from Satan. He first describes it all from without, as it appears; then its nature— what he did not see in it, but the absence of which is of immense importance. Lastly, we have what is more prophetic declaration than vision. It has the glory of God: immense truth! “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God”; its display and its dwelling-place shall be in us. The light of the city was such; for He that sat on the throne was like a jasper stone; now it shines forth clear as crystal in unsullied brightness, even when displayed in the redeemed assembly. It is in perfect security, figured here according to the image of a city, a wall great and high. There is the perfection of administrative order and power in the creation, twelve gates. As we saw of the idea of people (v. 3), it had been foreshadowed in Israel, and the names of the twelve tribes are found here. The foundations, however, were not the patriarchs, but the twelve apostles of the Lamb. They were the foundation of all christian governmental and administrative power.
We may remark here, that though, of course, the bride is the same, it is not in its Pauline character, the one body, but in its governmental, as founded in connection with, and an offspring of, the Jewish and earthly system, just as the child was born of the woman. It is a city, not a body. We now get its proper perfection. It is measured with its gates and its walls. It is finitely perfect. It is four square—the length as large as the breadth—its platform was perfect. It was twelve thousand furlongs, the number twelve again marking the administrative perfection in man, only largely multiplied in fact; but it was as complete as its platform was perfect. It was a cube, not merely a square—a circle or sphere has neither beginning nor end—a square and cube are equal in every dimension, but each line ends. They are finite perfection; the square in principle; the cube in completeness also. The wall has its perfection, 12 x 12. It is not divine in its nature—it is the measure of a man, though God measures it by the angel. The wall, its security, is divine glory. The jasper here, is not spoken of as clear. It were out of place. The city is divine righteousness and fixed unalterable purity; as it is said:— “after the image of him that created him,” “and in righteousness and true holiness.”
Next, the foundations of the wall are garnished with precious stones. Besides the general idea of every character of beauty, there is the special character, elsewhere remarked, of the stones—the variegated display of colours into which light transforms itself, when seen through a medium, when God is revealed in and by the creature, or in connection with his state—in creation, intercessional representation, and here, in glory. The names of the apostles were in the foundation which God had laid for the security of the city, as they had displayed the truth on which that rests, but the varied display of the light of God was found therein. The beauty and comeliness which delights Christ in the church, meet the eye at once when arriving at the city. The gates were each one pearl. Within, and where one walked, was righteousness and true holiness, as the very character and nature of the city itself. There was no temple seen. God displayed His glory— the place of His worship, unclouded, unhidden. God’s glory lit it up, and it was in the Lamb that glory centred and shone. This closes the direct description of the beauty and glory of the city itself. What follows is what belonged to it, in relation to others, and what was enjoyed in it.
Within the city, the glory of God gives light, and the Lamb is its light-giver. The nations walk in the light of the city itself. That heavenly glory now enlightened the earth. They have it, not directly; but the sight of the church in glory is a yet more fitting, more instructive sight to them. They learn what faithful ones have got, what the humiliation of Christ implies. They will know how the Father sent the Son, how those whom the world rejected were loved as Christ was loved. They will have Christ in His glory and joy in His reign, but they cannot learn the other truths in the millennial state, nor can they, therefore, learn them directly. It would not be suited. They learn them in the church, in glory. The kings bring their glory there to it (not “into it”). Its exalting is owned by them, and they honour it as the place of honour. Nothing defiled enters, no idolatry, no falsehood. It cannot be corrupted as the assembly on earth. It rests not on man’s responsibility, but on God’s power, and redemption, of which it is the heavenly fruit.
We now come to the descending blessings which are its blessings, but which flow down on earth. Note here, the throne of God and the Lamb are now in it. That throne, which was acting in judgment to bring about blessing, was now fixed in the heavenly city; but it is not the seat of judgment now. The river of water of life flows out of it—divine life-giving blessing. The Lamb still holds its place in the scene, and it is the throne of the Lamb as well as of God. The reader will remark that now for the first time it is called the throne of the Lamb. We had the throne of God, and the Lamb in the midst of it, but the throne distinct from the Lamb. It was He that sits on the throne. In chapter 21:1-8 God is all in all. But here we have the throne, the Lamb’s throne as well as God’s and the time and the character of the time distinctly marked.
Next, we have the tree of life, the constant supply in the street, and on either side the river, ready for all to enjoy, ever fresh, the full ripe fruit of life as Christ has displayed it. The outward manifestation of this, its leaves were to heal the nations. Evil was not absolutely gone below, though its power was, but remedy was there. Curse there was none at all. This was wholly gone. The throne of God and the Lamb was there: there could not be a curse. But His servants should serve Him. Observe how God and the Lamb are thrown into unity here. His servants (God’s and the Lamb’s) shall serve Him and shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads, that is, they shall be evidently and avowedly His. These are the three characteristics of the waiting people in glory: they serve Him directly and perfectly; they see His face directly and fully; their connection with, and confession of, His name are complete and evident. Doubtless this is God, but we cannot at all separate the Lamb, for when it is said “His name,” it is God, so known as revealed in Him. This is deeply and blessedly characteristic, and, indeed, so it is of the whole book, save the mysterious angelic part; and then the Lamb opens and introduces it, so that the same truth shines out more fully. Thus what the Lamb is, the suffering and enthroned One, shines out. Night or obscurity there is none there, nor need of artificial or even created light. Jehovah-Elohim gives them light, and they reign for ever and ever. This is not, I apprehend, their reign with Christ, but the statement of their glory and joy which will never cease. “Ye have reigned as kings without us,” says the apostle. This was false. That will be true and eternal.
This closes the book. There are, however, concluding observations, besides what is said to the church, from verse 16, which require some notice. The angel declares the truth of all this, and adds, the Lord God has sent His angel to show to His servants things that must shortly come to pass. This last expression must be noticed. It is one of the difficulties of the book. The same expression is used in the first verse. But I do not think that the whole key to the expression is in the fact that it begins with Ephesus and is a whole. In God’s mind the church had failed as a witness. The time was come for judgment to begin at the house of God. Hence whatever the patience of God, there was no more time recognised till judgment was executed, save 1260 days which belong in fact to a period marked out in Jewish chronology. Perhaps I should say, that the church which belongs to heaven having lost this character and left its first love, and Christ having hence taken a judicial character in view of its earthly testimony, the time of taking up computed time and judgment was a question of divine patience—might be at any moment there. If it were not, it was grace, working as long as love could produce blessing, while all was, in spite of mercy, ripening for judgment. But the Lord warns that He was coming quickly— “Blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.”
Here again, we may apply all the book, provided we see the church in its responsibility, and not in its connection with Christ as its Head. Christ is viewed as coming in reference to responsibility. To such prophecy applies—the hope of His coming to receive us up is another thing. It is hope, not responsibility and warning. His coming, in connection with responsibility, is always His appearing; and the church, though doubtless saved and coming with Him, stands on the same ground as the world, that is, of the consequences of its conduct. Hence the difference is not made here, though from chapter 4 the book be more directly prophetic. This verse applies to those who have the book. The testifying angel again rejects the proffered worship. Surely this has reference to the time the book treats of when the very position of the church as connected with the Head being out of view, holding the Head by Christians would tend to give place to excessive reverence for the higher instruments of God’s government, in whom He used to reveal Himself, and above which the minds of Christians did not go. In both cases here the worship was proffered when the witness has closed, saying— “These are the true sayings of God.” But the angel does more than refuse the worship: he is a fellow servant, the prophet is to worship God. Now God has ceased thus to reveal Himself angelically. Not only has God alone the title to be worshipped, but it in man He has revealed Himself. We know this by faith.
The close of this book contemplates its public manifestation. The angels have their own known place for the Christian in service, as creatures of course, not objects of worship, not the beings or form in which God reveals Himself, never mediatorial intercessors and not for the Christian those in whom God is seen; and, once Christ is glorified as man, not even administrative authorities though ever willing servants. God I worship, Christ I worship, because He is God and Lord. In Him God is perfectly revealed. He with the saints, that is, Redeemer, Ruler, will govern and inherit all things. All here, even the prophet, are servants. The sayings of this book were not to be sealed as Daniel’s were. That was in place. The fulfilment was to come out in the last days. Between, all the wonderful church or heavenly system was to come in, and what was revealed was to be sealed till this; and the decay of this on earth, which let in these earthly ways of God again, had made it timely by the speedy taking up again of these ways. Now that is exactly what we have here. The professing church got into the place of judgment and the divine preparation made, the Lamb being seen in the throne and opening the book, for the fulfilling the things which had to be sealed in Daniel’s time. Hence the book was not to be sealed, for the time is at hand. The time in view in it was not that of restoring grace, of the gospel but of judgment, of man’s responsibility, in which there is no change in man. Even in the churches, which is not the strictly prophetic part of the book, those who hear and are righteous in the churches, are directed and guided in the way, but supposed to be already righteous. Still, here, I doubt not the closing scenes are looked to, and the saints to whom the prophecy is addressed, as already such.
The Lord was coming to judge, and quickly. Verse 7 addresses itself in warning to those engaged in the circumstances of the book itself, and the things are shortly to be done. Here, in verses 10-14, all is closed. The Lord is coming to judge every one according to their works, and their state is viewed as a fixed one. Hence, in verse 13, He closes all with His own nature, as First and Last. Verses 14, 15, need not be confined, I apprehend, to those who form the city itself, but include all those who, having washed their robes (I think Codex Sinaiticus has confirmed this reading), have the right to the tree of life, and enter in through the gates of pearl into the city: redemption, leading to life, and fitting for a state lovely in grace in Christ’s eyes, what meets the entering person at once, and for association with divine holiness and righteousness. This, even the blood of Christ and the sanctification of the Spirit, is the foundation of the blessing of all who are blessed. Without are the evil and the violent, the corrupt and the idolatrous. In chapter 21:8 it is final judgment; here it is exclusion.
This wholly closes the book; and Jesus presents Himself as such to the prophet, as revealing all this for the churches. He comes personally forward, still in connection of course with the subject of the book, as the Source and Heir of the promises of Israel, and as the One known to the faith of the church and none else—a heavenly One, not the day for this world, but the Bright and Morning Star for those who watch in the night. Whatever the state of the professing church might be, this remained true and bright for hope, and the brighter, the darker all seemed to be. It is no announcement of coming or warning now, but Christ’s announcing Himself, “I, Jesus” — announcing what He is for the Jews, and what He is for the church. When what He is for the church, her special portion in Him, is named, all the affection of the church in her own relationship is awakened: indeed what love produced in her in ever respect, as animated by the Spirit which dwells in her. Indeed He is first named. The position of the church is this: she has the Spirit, and longs for Christ. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” It is not merely affection or a wish, but the mind of the Spirit as down here on the earth.
The church looks for Christ, for Himself and herself, in the consciousness of her own relationship. No doubt, it will be blessing for the world. That, she enters into and delights in; but Christ Himself is before her mind. Thus her heart, or the Spirit speaking in the prophet as associated personally with her in position and testimony, turns round in love, first to him who hears; let him who has received the testimony of Jesus say “Come.” That is the thing to desire. After Christ Himself, the Spirit first turns to them that are His; then to any one who has an awakened desire and need of soul, “Let him that is athirst”; then in the power of that love with which the church is filled, and with which the Spirit works, “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” The church longs for Christ, but she has the full stream of life already. She says to every soul, “Whosoever will, let him come”; not to me, as Jesus alone could. Still she possesses the water, and invites to come as freely as she has enjoyed. In a word, we get the full place of the church and her testimony while waiting for Christ, and for nothing else, and thus for Him directly. This desire the Lord meets then. “He which testifieth these things, saith, Surely I come quickly”; and this satisfies the heart of the saints. “Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus.” A solemn sanction is added to the authority of the book, and to maintain its integrity. The book of life is not life, but the presumed and apparent possession of it as inscribed among professing Christians.
I have thus attempted a sketch of the book in its structure and meaning. To complete this, something might be said of its historical application, at least as warning as to the present time, and perhaps something of a vocabulary of symbolical language.
[End Of Expository—Volume 2.]
20 Those who are its members are the means of spreading it. The church does not teach. Apostles and prophets first, and then teachers in their place, as evangelists in theirs, do that; the church receives, holds fast, and professes the truth. The state of the church may be such as to cast the holding fast and professing the truth on the fidelity of individuals; but the church’s duty, in her right and normal state, is to be the pillar and ground of the truth.
21 Compare here, 1 John 4:12, to see the unspeakable privilege of the Christian.
22 Although this doctrine is found in many parts of Paul’s writings, it may be interesting to remark, that though in God’s plans (chap. 8) he sees us glorified, and Christ in heaven interceding—in doctrine, the Romans presents man as a sinner and Christ only risen so that the individual is justified—not the church, save in relative duties. In Ephesians, on the contrary, he does not see Christ living on earth, nor us as living in sin, save, as alluding to it as a past history, when speaking of practice. Christ is first seen as dead, and God has raised Him and set Him above all: we, dead in sins, and God has raised us with Him. Hence, it is wholly a new creation, absolute relationships, according to this. Hence, we have the church, and our place before God, as Christ now has it.
23 It is known that it should not be read, “and all things,” but simply, “all things.”
24 It is remarkable, that in John 1, where we have the names and titles of Christ so wonderfully displayed, exactly those are wanting which belong to His place in heaven, and present relationship with the church exclusively. He is neither Head of the church, nor High priest. This is significant as to John’s writings.
25 In chapter 10 with the sheep the Lord speaks of eternal life, but He speaks also of His laying down His life for the sheep. It is after chapters 8 and 9, that is, rejection of word and work.
26 The reading is this: “I am Alpha and Omega, saith the Lord God, the One who is, and who was, and who is the coming One, the Almighty.”
27 Compare the use of these names in 2 Corinthians 6:17, 18, where He who bears them takes the place and name of Father with us.
28 I am strongly disposed to think this intimates that his real prophetic position is looking out to the government of the world as then immediately before him. The church was past; and, as prophet, he was in times beyond it, but he must turn and give a rapid and general account of the way in which the course of the church led up to this time. Prophecy always leaps over from the present time to the end, and specially does not know the church; but here it was necessary to give the course of the church on earth.
29 The first part of verse 11 is left out by the editors.
30 It is very possible that John had been visited by messengers (angeloi) from the seven churches; though, of course, as it is not revealed, I speak of it, but as suggested by the term angeloi, and as he was really writing to these churches. Were it even so, the purpose of the Spirit was not to send an ordinary epistle to the churches, but to use the occasion for a prophetic unfolding of the whole scene of God’s ways as unrolled before God’s eyes.
31 At least in the first four. A closer examination of the churches will lead us to see that in the four first, where there is blame (in the epistle to Smyrna there is none) and threatened judgment, the threat is to be executed not on the angel, but on the candlestick in Ephesus— or on the guilty parties, as in Pergamos and in Thyatira. But in the three last it is not so. In Philadelphia there is no blame; and here, as in Smyrna, the angel and the church are not distinguished in the address itself; but in Sardis and in Laodicea the threatenings are continued as a part of the address to the angel himself. This, I suppose, connects itself with the distinction already made between these two classes of churches; the four first have a definite church-place, and the angel, that part which in God’s sight really represented the church, is abidingly owned at all events, and the judgment is on the inconsistent part, or what falsified the public testimony. But, when we come to Sardis, we go back (for Thyatira goes on to the end); when speaking of the mass, the better and witnessing part comes out as witness, witness against Jezebel; if they are not a witness they are nothing at all. The corporate constitution is null here. Hence, if there be failure, the whole thing fails and is judged with the world, and any faithful ones become a distinctive blessed remnant; because faithful witness is the whole thing. Hence, when Christ has to become that, the church so ruined is to be spued out of His mouth.
32 All the best authorities, read “the woman.”
33 Not “and” the rest. “You” is plural, and means “the rest.”
34 Note that “complete before my God” is the correct reading.
35 Around and round are different in Greek. The first gives the idea of distinct objects surrounding; the other, what is round anything, not necessarily distinct, but viewed from it and connected with it as a centre. In chapter 7:11, it is around.
36 Verse 8 may very well be read as if “having harps” applied to the elders only. Very competent judges so understand it; but in chapter 19:4, at any rate, the four beasts fall down and worship. Verse 9 should be “they sing.”
37 Psalm 79 gives the case of terrible slaughter in and around Jerusalem by the heathen; of the application of which I am not sure. It is not, I think, certainly, the beast who is there active. Nor am I quite sure they are real saints, and not the saints, taking all in as a holy people, though as a nation they are said to be al chesed (not holy). In Daniel 7, “given into his hand” refers to times and laws, not to the saints. The beast prevails against them, but they flee as a body and are preserved.
38 The truth is, this goes farther, when duly weighed, than at first sight appears. We have no action of the Lamb from the opening of the book.
39 The four trumpets, remark, affect all parts of the symbolic creation —the verdure of the earth, the sea, the fountains and rivers, and the celestial bodies.
40 “The one coming up,” Rev. 11:7, is purely characteristic, as the same form is in a multitude of cases.
41 Their sufferings, of course, bore no comparison at all to His, seeing He suffered from the wrath of God, and in the spirit of love in which He had no equal.
42 I doubt whether “names “has a particular force, save to individualize them. (See chap. 3:4).
43 Bengel refers it to God, as in Romans 3:6. But I apprehend it is quite general for judgment, for people being judged.
44 But not perhaps wholly in other expressions.