The first thing I find in the Apocalypse is that this revelation was not committed to the church as being in its normal relationship with the Head of the house. Just as we have distinguished in prophecy these two cases, that in which the people were acknowledged of God, and that in which they were not; so we have as regards the Apocalypse something like the latter of these two cases. It is a man who receives the communication of it, not the body. There is, however, a slight difference, on account of the seven churches. It is not an internal communication, a communication of grace (an ecclesiastical communication, as one might say, in the good sense of the word); but it is a prophetical communication concerning a certain time.
Verse 4. It is not properly the Trinity, for in that case there would be the Father. Verse 6. One sees here the position of the church in this governmental order of God, which characterises the Apocalypse. In verse 13 it is “a Son of man,” not the Son of Man: it is to express the character in which He shews Himself. He is servant here; yet not absolutely, for He was clothed with a garment down to the foot. It was not tucked up for service, and His girdle is not brought down so as to strengthen the loins. He wears it about the breast like a girdle of righteousness. Then in verse 14 He is “Jehovah.”
Verse 16. We have His power in authority, authority over that which acts in power as administering in the church. All that have authority He holds in His hand. They are not administrators as gifts; it is rather as government.
Verse 17. John fell at His feet as dead. It is a man who receives a glorious vision, as a prophet (Daniel). Verse 18. “I am the first and the last” (Jehovah). “I am he that liveth and was dead.” He had passed through the state where sin had reduced man. Verse 19 gives us the division of the Apocalypse.
Verse 20. “The angels”; they are the administrative representatives. If as head of the state I had before me the representatives of a dozen towns, I could, according to the case, address one of them and say to him, How is it that such a thing should take place in such or such a locality? They are mystical administrative representatives of the church. It is not that angels go and come from the church to God; it is the idea of angels, without saying that they are persons. The “angel of Jehovah “is an expression to signify that mysterious representation of God when it is not He Himself. For the rest, it is a difficult expression to define rightly.
Ephesus. Chapter 2:1-7. Here is Christ in His general character—chief and inspector. It seems to me pretty clear that the seven churches are the moral history of the church from the time of John until the end. First, this number seven shews that it forms a whole. If it is a complete idea, it cannot be the aggregate of the church at that time, because they are totally different states. The Lord could not say at the same time, as if to the general church, “Thou hast them that hold the doctrine of Balaam,” and “Thou hast kept the word of my patience.” Then, if it were only a question of those seven churches, it is incredible that He holds the seven stars, as a whole, in His hand, and that He only thinks of seven churches when there were thousands in the world; v. 12. The stream still runs, but the spring had dried up. Christ in these epistles, we see, will not bear with anything short of the primitive state of the church: it is that which He had set up Himself in forming the church. If they do not return, the Lord will take away the candlestick; and we find very little of repentance in the history of the seven churches. From the very first, judgment is pronounced on the church; only we have the different phases through which it passes to arrive there.
Smyrna. Verses 8-11. “Some of you.” Although it has to do with an angel, He will not speak as leaving all the responsibility on one only. It is instructive to see that the Lord, who has all power, allows Satan to act, and is content with saying (as judge), “Be thou faithful unto death.” We do not find here the communications according to grace, nor that care which belongs to priesthood. They are left simply in their own responsibility. There would be no chastisement, if there were not a cause. There surely was at Smyrna a certain decline, which was the occasion for it; for the persecution, which is first for the sake of Christ, is often also a correction, as we see in Hebrews 12:4, 5. As for myself, I do not make up a theory of a gradual decline. God may, for a moment, stop the outward evil, as in the time of Josiah, although the evil continues underneath, and works in an underground way. He maintains responsibility so as to bring one to feel the need of resting upon Him. What does “overcoming “mean in these passages? I answer, To hold fast, in spite of the flesh and Satan.
Pergamos. Verses 12-17. Now Christ explains the word. He here again judges within. But it is not merely a moral judgment. He begins to exercise judgment on one part of the church (perhaps as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira), for there was yet much good in the church. But it is the church itself judged in a portion of its members. “Thou hast there them … I will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Verses 15, 16. The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes is a doctrine which sanctions evil deeds in the church. It suffices to know what is said about this in the word.
Now however that the church is found where Satan’s seat is, there must be a seal for heaven. The church was losing its heavenly character; then Jesus encourages this character. It is an exhortation to be heavenly, particularly addressed to individuals. When all is heavenly, there is no need of that exhortation. The manna is not that which is necessary in this world, but the enjoyment of Christ, known in heaven, as having been in humiliation. It is, in a word, a heavenly character in intimacy with Jesus, for the manna which is offered is a hidden manna; and the name on the stone is a name that no one knows but he that receives it. This epistle is clear enough to my mind, to enable me to apply it to the time of Constantine.
Thyatira. “The Son of God” —this is a new title, distinct, outside of the vision. It is necessary that Christ should separate Himself somewhat from the church. He isolates Himself a little in His Person, because the church has so lost its characteristic features that He cannot really own it. It is this new title which causes the change in the order of the promise and of the warning. The result of it is, that those who had faith were much more faithful. Hence He distinguishes the conquerors in a more particular manner; and, not being able hopefully to occupy Himself with the improvement of the church, He speaks of His coming as the sole object of hope. The church, as such, is clean set aside. The church is, by nature, a remnant; but that character was so totally lost in Thyatira, that it was needful to form again a remnant. With the churches which follow (save that He has the seven spirits and the seven stars, that is to say, all that suffices for the church, whatever may come) Jesus never takes a revealed character, because the church has lost the character in which He can be in its midst, as church. The church must therefore by special faith lay hold on Him, of that which He is for the circumstances in which it is found, because the character which He takes is not His natural character (one may say) even in judgment.
He finds His delight in owning the good which was found there. Verse 22. “I will cast her into a bed”; Jezebel is an adulterous woman. In hell she will have her bed! There are children born of her prostitution, and the Lord will kill them with death (by judgment). Her children are those who draw their faith from her: the thing must be understood morally (thus Bossuet); but there are servants of His who commit fornication with her (Fenelon, for instance, and many others). Verse 24. “But unto you I say,” he distinguishes a remnant very plainly. “I will put upon you none other burden”; the Lord would add nothing more. He only asked that they should be faithful in keeping themselves from Jezebel. In truth, it is already a great thing to keep oneself from Popery. Since that, indeed, there have been other communications from the Lord.
Verse 26. “To him will I give power over the nations.” He is coming; then when He has come, He will give authority to this little remnant who have been faithful in the midst of the nations. He gives the morning star; this is the portion of the church, to have its part with Christ before He comes. Having traced the failure with Jezebel, it is the coming of the Lord which is the only answer to faith.
These churches are never the energy of God, which produces the effect—the blessing; but they are the state which results from it, when the effect is produced, and God confides it to the responsibility of man. God forms the church; after that He declares the responsibility of the church. It is quite simple. Does Christ judge what God has done? Surely not.
We can divide the seven churches into two categories: firstly, the first four; secondly, the last three. As to the first four, all is ended with Thyatira. God works anew in Sardis. He recommences, so to speak, and all terminates with Laodicea. Now when God has wrought, He brings man into what He has done, with the responsibility of maintaining it. If man fails therein, if he spoils it or allows it to be spoilt, God rejects all that is spoilt. This is what has happened for the church. God wrought to establish a testimony for His Son; man, who was placed in that testimony, has failed in it, as Ephesus in its first love, etc.; then the state of things becomes so bad that God rejects it, without abandoning His mode of action. He recommences at Sardis according to the same principle; but at Laodicea the Son, to whom testimony was to be rendered, is outside: then all is spued out.
Verse 27. See Revelation 18:20. We do not get here the relationship of the church: but that which is governmental and of judgment. It is always the case in the Revelation. Judgment is not our habitual thought; but there are cases where one feels that the righteousness of God is a good thing. In Thyatira, the evil is complete; it is no longer corruption only. Hence, when the evil takes the character of an adversary, it is a thought according to God to bring in judgment.
There is a connection between Thyatira and the Babylon of chapters 17 and 18 of Revelation, although there are also in these chapters other elements. Then the Lord distinguishes the remnant in the plainest manner by saying, “To you I say, the rest who are in Thyatira.” If one commits fornication with Jezebel, there is indeed danger of throwing oneself into the depths of Satan and of going through the experience of these and not of the depths of God.
“The morning star “is the coming of Jesus preceding His manifestation to the world. Peter goes up to the point where Paul begins. He speaks of prophecy as pointing out the evil things, the events. He warns me; whereas the morning star is Christ Himself, my hope, outside of all other things, turning my eye towards the dawn of day. For me the coming of Christ is not prophecy, because the coming of Christ is my own proper hope. I am as it were in a dome which has no opening but at the summit, so that I am in immediate connection with Christ in heaven, and a stranger to all the rest. Peter limits his doctrine to what he saw. He saw the Lord up to the moment when the cloud concealed Him from their eyes.
Sardis. Chapter 3:1. We have here a beginning again. The Lord presents Himself in an already revealed character, the seven stars, and in a new character, the seven spirits—not the seven spirits which are before His throne. It is what suffices for all times, where the church is found. The “seven spirits” shew fulness of action; the “seven stars” are fulness of power in government. Whilst going through the experience of our weakness, we ought not to forget that there is, even now, in Christ, all that is needed in order to work with blessing and effect.
“Thou hast a name that thou livest” (renown). It was not merely negative, for there was enough to deserve renown among men. The Lord distinguishes persons from things; but He judges persons according to things, “the things which remain,” the good which remained, whether people or things. I see here that, whatever be the state of failure, God expects that the works will be complete, according to the light which He has given. Protestantism will be judged according to the light which was given at the Reformation, and not according to what it is now. In practice this remark is important, because it happens that men lose the light soon after it is given; and yet God judges according to the light which was given. So it is no reason for saying, I did not know it. It often happens that when all has been lost, one pretends to have all, by retaining the reputation which had been acquired when all was possessed. This is the case in Thyatira.
We find here, moreover, a very solemn thing. It is that Sardis is threatened with the same judgment as the world. Although recognised as the church, and although ir had a name that it lived, this professing church is threatened to undergo the woe which is declared in 1 Thessalonians 5 as not to come upon Christians. Sardis is not the remnant of Thyatira, because, after all, that remnant would be dead whilst having a name that it lived, and that of those chosen ones a very small number would be walking with the Lord. It would thus be a very poor remnant, and it would be sad enough to belong to it. One must always remember that these churches, such as they are pointed out, are not the energy of God which wrought the thing, when, after it is done, God confides it to responsibility.
There is yet another remark to make on these last three churches. It is this: the coming of Christ is foremost, whether as a hope or in judgment for the conscience, because there was no longer either hope or means of putting the church in its right position. It is no longer a question of seeking to put Protestantism in its ecclesiastical state. No: “I will come on thee as a thief.” Save the fact that He has the seven stars, none of the characters which Jesus takes after this belong to the revelation given of Him in chapter 1. If, for my part, I rest upon Christ now, I must lay hold of Him in a special character, according to the need in which I find myself. The book of life is the book of citizenship: one is registered therein—one has the right to fight. It is a great thing to walk with the Lord; but save the fact that they had failed, I do not find much here—little relationship with the Lord, little intimacy. All is corrupted. They are faithful, it is true; they keep themselves from that corruption, but there is little speciality. They escape from this worldliness— “They have not defiled their garments”; all is negative. Protestantism has hardly the sense that one is in relationship with God, and that there are many things to know in Him; there is but little spiritual exercise. Protestantism is insipid; it has not the idea of a God who is present. In verse 4 read “But thou hast a few names.”
Philadelphia. Chapter 3:7. Here one is quite outside this class of titles; one is not ecclesiastically but morally outside the characters which He takes, when He has in view all the church. Verse 7. We have in these titles the “holy,” and the “true,” as well as the power which holds the door open for us, that we may attend to His service.
Some say, In keeping such or such a position I keep a door open for myself. Well! I find here, that it is Christ alone who has the keys. In verse 8 it is very touching, that without being able to say anything more, He says, “I know thy works.” He thus turns away the attention from the works to direct it on the path which He has opened for working still. Although there was very little, it was already a great deal, for there was but little strength. It is no longer some of those violent ones who take the kingdom by force, but Christ, who has the key, holds the door open before these feeble ones, and this suffices. If there was much strength, it would surely be more remarkable; but when with little strength one is faithful notwithstanding, this is the beauty of faithfulness.
Verse 9. Historically, they were Jews who tormented the Christians; it may be that at the end, these Jews will be found again and do the same thing. One may understand by “Jews,” people of their character (namely, some assembly constituted on Jewish principles, a pretension to be the people of God by natural descent, whether race or principles, etc.). This expression— “I will make them,” etc.—is very vague; it may be thus understood, that, without being joined to them, they will own that the Philadelphians are the remnant that God loves. In verse 10 we have the reason, the wherefore of the blessing: “Thou hast kept the word of my patience.” It is not only that we wait for Him, but that we wait as He waits. One keeps the word of that patience, and that word forms the affections and the conduct.
“The hour of temptation.” A temptation is coming, which will try all the dwellers upon the earth. We must not confound the temptation with the tribulation; the latter is more peculiar to Judea; it is Jacob’s trouble; Jer. 30:7. But here, although this temptation embraces the whole habitable world, Philadelphia is not found there, so that it is neither in the great temptation, nor in the great tribulation. In verse 11 mark well, that there is here a very positive revelation of His coming, and that it is not the same here as for Sardis, to which the threat is addressed of being overtaken as by a thief. The contrast with Sardis is remarkable enough. If we are keeping the word of His patience, though weak, we shall be kept out of the hour of temptation. First, all Jewish character is set aside; secondly, one is identified with Jesus in His awaiting.
Verse 12. The promise has for me a very touching form.; He says, “My,” “My.” In this address, we see Christ found again on the earth; He was there found with little strength; He suffered from the Jews; the porter opened to Him the door; John 10. So it is here. That is why the figures are rather Jewish. At the same time we find the church also. There are the great moral elements of Christ and the church, although there is not the power displayed in judgment before the world. As to the characters which Christ takes, in these three churches, there is this to notice: in Sardis, the church; in Philadelphia, David and the kingdom; in Laodicea, the world. We can understand His resuming successively these characters for the end.
Laodicea. Chapter 3:14. That which Jesus essentially is in Himself; not however as a character available for the church in holiness and truth. If the church fails, He takes His range in His own personal character, more independently of what the church is. He is the “beginning” of all things, always, in Himself; He is that, come what may. When the church was the manifestation of Himself to the world, He was something for it; at least, as motive in conduct. Here the church does no longer respond to Him; then He takes, in Himself, every character in testimony: “The Amen,” in whom every promise is secured; “the faithful witness,” etc. That which is wanting to the church, He is that in Himself— “the beginning of the creation of God,” the beginning of all things. Christ is that which corresponds to the primitive idea that was in God’s mind before all things. The Greek word arkel means the beginning in theory, and the end in practice. The main thought in building a house is to have a roof; but, in practice, a roof is the last thing that is made. The word “principle “comes nearest to the sense; but it does not give all the idea of the Greek. These titles lead us to follow the setting aside of the church.
Verse 15. They did not see this faithful and true witness; therefore they are content with a miserable state, which is nothing at all as testimony. They are so far off, that they do not perceive what they are come to, and they think themselves rich. For them it is not worth while to be hot or cold for Jesus; it is complete thoughtlessness and indifference. “And thou knowest not that thou art … the miserable.” Until the church is spued out He does not cease to counsel. As to the characters which Christ takes here, it is not as saying that He will act towards Laodicea according to these titles; but He prepares the spirit of the church to know that those things will be accomplished in Him; it is what He will do, when He accomplishes His promises, etc. In this manner, Laodicea follows a line, after the church is gone, to lead to the throne from which comes forth the judgments in the following chapters. “I counsel thee to buy,” because it is always a question of responsibility.
Verse 20. There is so much apathy, that the Lord contented Himself with knocking at the door. Verse 21: “To him that overcometh,” who will have overcome that indifferentism. It is, indeed, something to open the door to be saved, and to ascend the throne. When there is indifference for so precious an object, truly it is sad. “On my throne.” It has been said that it is the highest promise; for my part it seems to me that it is the promise which is most simply necessary; it is the minimum of the reward, because one must either reign or not be there at all. At Sardis, repentance is proposed to the church; the promise is conditional for the whole. At Laodicea, the invitation is individual.
In these churches, we have the moral character; but the manner in which that ends in judgment is not said. For my part, I do not occupy myself with the ruined house, which is going to fall; I take away the stones, because I know that the Lord is coming to fetch that which belongs to Him. The action of the Spirit among Protestants, rather than among Papists, is to me a sign of the approach of the judgments, because God is acting in that which is outside the original church. That makes me understand the blessing of being like Jonathan, who, having gone forward in simple faith, repelled the enemies of Israel without participating in the follies of Saul. It may be that, in the Roman states, popery will extend its sway over all, whilst in other states, Germany, Holland, England, etc., Protestantism will end by being merely a negative state of things without importance.
This quite naturally leads to the throne. Christ has said His last word in the church: it is a question now of the introduction of the Firstborn into the world.
Chapter 4. Here Christ is no longer seen on the earth, in the midst of the candlesticks; He is no longer occupied with them. He is now seen in heaven. All is over with the church down here. Verse 2: “A throne.” It is not Christ in the church, nor at Jerusalem, but in heaven. The church ought to have been, on the earth, an adequate witness of the ways of God, making God known; but if it has failed in this, God makes Himself known. He Himself accomplishes His objects. Verse 3: “A rainbow.” It is neither in relationship with the church nor with the Jews, but with the creation—postdiluvian relationship.
Verse 4: “Four and twenty thrones.” A throne is the royal seat of authority and government. Those four and twenty elders are kings. Here are only thrones and crowns. It is not the church as the bride; yet the church is formed there. There is nothing said either of the character of priest. The main thought is a throne: we are there before a throne. These four and twenty are reigning ones. Verse 5: “Seven lamps of fire,” which bring to light and judge what does not suit the throne. “Thunderings” mean majesty in government, manifested in a fearful manner. Verse 6: “A sea of glass” is solidified purity. One needed to be pure to be there. It is what one must be to be there. It is also the remembrance of what was done for those who are there; but it would be rather in chapter 15, that the sea might present this idea of remembrance. “Four living creatures” are the active qualities of God; they are the principles of His authority.
In the symbols, we must know how to set aside the thought of the creatures themselves, so as only to see the ideas. This is what is important in a symbol, that it is a grouping together of moral qualities by means of one being or several, thus forming a picture which gives us a complete idea of God in the thing symbolised. Thus with the beast, it is hardly possible to understand the symmetrical arrangement of seven heads and ten horns; whereas, we understand easily seven forms of government for the beast, and his power represented by ten kings. “Full of eyes” (v. 8) is the absolute sagacity to see everywhere. As to the cherubim, the idea that I have is, that they are the symbol of God’s judicial government. God put a cherubim “to keep the way of the tree of life.” They are four heads of creation, just as one sees their classes for the earth in Genesis 2:20. They celebrate the Creator-God, the governor of the world, the God of the Old Testament; what He is outside Christianity, consequently for the world, whether the world or Israel; the Almighty, Jehovah, the coming One, the God who is coming, as He is the God who was. At the same time these names are mentioned in one of the epistles to the Corinthians; 2 Cor. 6:18. The God who is the Almighty, the Jehovah, would be the Father of Christians.
Verse 9: it is a question of the creation here. Such is the subject of chapter 4. It is the creation which gives glory to God; there is neither redemption, nor anything else. In verse 11 read, “for thy will,” for thy good pleasure. It is God the Creator, governor, on the throne, with all that appertains to the supreme throne. “Four and twenty” is twice the administrative perfection in man—a double testimony. “Seven” is a prime number that has no factor; this number is more abstract, and rises higher as a symbol. “Twelve” is the number which is most capable of subdivision. When it is a question of the action of man, it is always twelve.
Chapter 5. Books were then rolls. When there was much matter, they were written on within and on the back. In this one, which had seven seals, each turn was sealed at the head of the roll. Verse 5: you will always find that it is the elders who have divine intelligence; they are the explainers. We find here the Jewish power of government. “Root of David” is just to say, where the government of God is to be placed; Christ is the source of it. “Seven horns” and “seven eyes”; it is still for government, because they are “the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.” There is something to learn in the history of these eyes. In? Chronicles 16:9, they “run to and fro throughout the whole earth.” This is providence in general. In Zechariah 3:9, they are on the stone laid in Jerusalem. In Zechariah 4:10, these same eyes, being established in Jerusalem, “run to and fro through the whole earth”; it is a providence which originates in God’s intention of putting the throne in Zion. Lastly here, in Revelation 5, before being in Zion, the eyes are in the horns of the Lamb on high.
Verse 8. According to the grammatical order, it is only the elders who have harps and vials; but one can hardly insist as to this. It is the prayers of the saints, and not of the priests; the idea is Jewish. It is as in Luke 1, at the time when Zechariah offered the incense, all the people were outside praying. Verse 9 is literally, “and they sing.” Read rather, “thou hast bought [people]… Thou hast made them kings… and they reign.” All scholars suppress the “us.” It is not difficult to understand, because the priests present the prayers of the saints. As to these saints on the earth, God has made them kings and priests. There was no doubt that the four and twenty elders were kings and priests; but that which was so beautiful to celebrate was, that those suffering ones, left behind awhile, were also kings and priests. There is a slight difference of reading as to “reign,” or “will reign”; for my part, I think it is rather “will reign.” The church is there, but not alone: all the saints of the Old Testament are there also. Verse 11 and following; it is not only creation which this multitude of angels celebrate, it is also redemption. It is only the elders who say “for thou,” etc. (v. 9). They have the divine intelligence which lays hold of the reason why Christ was humbled. It is the same as to the creation; chap. 4:11. Whereas, the angels merely celebrate the glory of God, without saying why God has done the things.
Chapter 6. The first four seals are the providential history of what God will do, when the moment comes to introduce the Firstborn into the world. Then, in the general government of His providence, God does certain things, by which He begins to put down man. It is the beginning of the ways of God, when He is going to introduce His Firstborn into the world. There is, first of all, the first start, which seems an apparent victory, then all sorts of chastisements, which press upon men, without breaking them dpwn. Verse 9, they are those who have before suffered from the hand of man. “The souls are,” as if to say, I saw them living, although they were put to death. Their souls were under the altar, as a sacrifice to God for His cause. (The same re-appears in chapter 20, where they are seen to be raised from the dead.) But it is the idea that they have been put to death. They received white robes, to shew that they are pure and approved of God. What they ask for is not resurrection, but vengeance. Verse 17, we must carefully mark that it is not God who says, “the great day of his wrath is come”; it is the frightened men who say so at that moment; but later, when the day is come, they are not frightened about it. Verses 12-17: this earthquake is not the same as in Matthew 24. At the fifth seal, after the scene of the souls under the altar, there is a certain period not mentioned here, during which there are still some put to death. This would be the place of the great tribulation which follows the abomination standing in the holy place; Matt. 24:15-28. Then, at the sixth seal, a shaking, which is not yet the end; but after which come other things noticed farther on in the Apocalypse.
Chapter 7. Here again we have twelve (twelve multiplied by twelve). They are the spared ones of Israel. This is much more general. It is all the spared ones of Israel. Verses 9-17: this is the passage of the Apocalypse, which is the most difficult to class. God will help us, I trust. Here I do not find intelligence. I find still that they celebrate salvation coming from God, such as He is in His government. God (and the Lamb on the earth) is the one who spared them. It is an elder who has the intelligence of what concerns this multitude. We have seen Israel in the first part of this chapter: now we have Gentiles. I find in these saved ones neither intelligence of redemption, nor the Father, nor that joy which finds in God its happiness. They are relieved. It is an almost negative blessing. “They shall hunger no more,” etc. I find nothing here of what is characteristic for the church. They are Gentiles, who go through the time of trial pointed out to Philadelphia. Are they in heaven or on the earth? At all events, they are before the throne, and not on thrones. Their position is altogether inferior to that of the church. Their religion is that of the Apocalypse; their relation with God is according to the Apocalyptic form. They are neither in relationship with the Father, nor with the throne on the earth.
Chapter 8. In verses 3-5, the effect of intercession in this case is to bring down judgment. There is something of mystery here. The saints begin to interest themselves about this. We have much more of the imagery of the temple. “The fire of the altar,” the judgment of God which Christ suffered, is turned against the earth. That which had been a burnt-offering to God of a sweet savour becomes against man his very judgment. These are not only acts of providence, but religious dealings in connection with the world. The Jewish principle of the relationship of God is with the world. If there is evil, God will avenge it; Psalm 20. The opening of the seals brings out the counsels of God, whilst the trumpets announce God in judgment. As there is a throne in heaven before it is established in Zion, so before there is a temple where God receives His worship, the saints on the earth are in relationship with the temple of God in heaven. Since it is a question of introducing the Firstborn into the world, God shews Himself more and more distinctly under a Jewish character.
In the first four trumpets the judgment is limited to the third part of the things smitten. It is all that is organised on the earth, beginning by the lowest. The sources of refreshment and the authorities are smitten completely for a third part. First trumpet is a third part of the eminent persons and all prosperity. Second trumpet is some great power, which God employs in judgment, in causing to fall into the mass of the people (the sea). Third trumpet is the star, some power, acting as light, which corrupts the principles of the peoples and influences for evil. It is not only human power; it is something higher (as for instance the star of Napoleon). The “rivers “represent peoples, the “waters” moral influences. The peoples moving under certain principles become the rivers. Fourth trumpet is the governmental powers are smitten: they are in darkness, at least for a third part.
Chapter 9. Now we have not only men smitten in their circumstances; but those who cling to the earth are smitten in their persons in a direct manner. Fifth trumpet is a power, especially Satanic, which comes out of the bottomless pit and finishes the corrupting of all wisdom of government. A star of heaven ought never to be on the earth. Mahomet is an instance of this. He was a man of extraordinary power put by Satan in movement to spread a moral influence, which vitiates the atmosphere one breathes. In verse 3 are “locusts.” There are agents, a whole army, which spring from this principle.
Verse 6. Men tormented by the devil will seek death. They will suffer in two ways, morally and physically, being prepared unto battle. There is an appearance of dignity, of royal righteousness; but when they turn round, one sees that they are subject to something (hair). At the same time they will do harm. They have the teeth of lions. God gives the name of their head in two languages, perhaps because the scene takes place in the East; and for a Hebrew he would be Abaddon, and for a Greek Apollyon. Sixth trumpet—we are in the East since the fifth trumpet, it seems to me. Here we are near the Euphrates. It is a terrible invasion. It is much more an armed attack than a moral influence (the influence of the tail, so to speak); not but that there is equally that. Verse 19. The men that escape repent neither of their idolatry, nor of their wickedness. The influences of the last form of evil, for the last judgments in the East, prepare themselves on every side, because Jerusalem is about to become the centre.
Remark that up to the end of chapter 11 we have the general history; afterwards we have that which is more specially relative to the beast and to the apostasy. Therefore it was necessary to mark the place in the general history, and it is this we have in the parenthesis of chapters 10 and 11 up to verse 13.
What we have in chapters 8 and 9 is the preparation to arrive at the last form of evil. God chastens men in order to stop them, and it would be a mercy if they would listen. One must notice, moreover, that until now it is these wicked men who are smitten, and not as yet the saints, although there may be persecutions as at all times.
Chapter 10. “Clothed with a cloud” is an appearance of divine majesty. “A rainbow” is again the covenant with the creation. “His face was as it were the sun”—supreme majesty; “his feet as pillars of fire”—the firmness of judgment. He descends from heaven to take possession of the earth, by placing His feet, one on the earth, the other on the sea. Verses 3, 4: “Seven thunders” —the perfection of God’s intervention in His judgment, answering to the voice of the angel. God keeps sealed those things which John then sees; He will not allow John to write. God allows things to be spoken, in order to shew that all His power must intervene to answer this cry of Christ; but He will only reveal what is in relationship with that which is an object of veneration in the world; Christianity, Judaism, and consequently the apostasy. With His feet, Christ takes possession of all, China, America, etc.: but it is not His will to occupy us with it here. In verse 6 read, “That there should be no longer delay.” The “Little book” means not the ways of providence in the world hidden, but the relation of the servants with what takes place in the world, the persecuted servants.
Chapter 11. This chapter is properly the summing up of the “little book,” the development of which will take place in the following chapters. “Measure”: the book takes Jewish forms here (this had not taken place before) and owns those who can really offer worship to God, or enter into the interior of the temple. The prophetic Spirit, announcing that a judgment is going to take place, takes and puts the individual in relationship with God according to the principles of His government. We are in the last week, and commence the history of the things which enter into the sphere of the last prophets. Up to this the things did not distinctly come out in this way; but now here we are in the week of Daniel. In verse 2 this measuring indicates that God owns what belongs to Him (property is measured by a line). In Matthew 24 the Lord leaves everything vague until the last half-week, at least as to the period. It is from the time of the abomination in the holy place that all is determined. For the last half-week, there is nothing doubtful to my mind. As to Zechariah 10, 14, chapter 10 gives the last attack, and chapter 14 the first. It is evident enough to me that, the first time, Jerusalem is taken, and that the second time, the Lord being there and the remnant in force, the enemies do not succeed.
Verse 4. The two witnesses stand before the God, not of heaven, but of all the earth. It is not a candlestick before the Lord of the earth; it is an adequate testimony to the state of Israel according to God— “two witnesses.” God will also be in the midst of the remnant, without owning the people. In Zechariah we see everything in order. There is a candlestick and two olive trees, which furnish oil for the candlestick. Here it is two candlesticks and two olive trees. How can you arrange them so as to make a whole? In the “two,” I do not go beyond the idea that it is an adequate testimony.
Verses 5, 6. We find again here the power of Elias and of Moses. It is the proof that God takes up anew His relationships with His people, but in a sovereign manner, by means of the prophets as of old, when they were in Egypt or separated from the temple, as in the time of Elijah. This is always what God does when His people are in disorder and He returns to His relationship with them. One sees again here that His relationships with His people are at the same time relationships and non-relationships, because nothing is in order (a proof by the way, that the first half-week is viewed vaguely and might well belong at the same time both to the mission of Jesus and to the testimony of the end until the abomination of the desolation). The witnesses shut the heavens; they have authority over the waters and over the earth. The three things which we have seen to be objects of the judgment (chap. 8) are now in their power.
Verse 7. It is not only that the holy city is trodden under foot, but besides that, Satan destroys the testimony of God on the earth. All then is in the hands of the wicked one. Verse 8. Read “the great street of the city.” “The city” is not Babylon, but Jerusalem. Verse 10. What ferocious joy of man, when they had put to death the witnesses of God! “They that dwell upon the earth” are those who are settled there, morally as well as otherwise. Verses 11-13: we see that after their testimony there is a series of events. Verse 13: there is extreme fear; but they had not received the testimony, for they give glory to the God of heaven. Here the sixth trumpet is finished. It goes up to the death of the two witnesses.
The seventh trumpet is probably the end of the last half-week. There is nothing said here of what happens; only, when it has sounded, they celebrate in heaven the victory, because the trumpet has sounded for the end; chap. 10:7. Chapter 11 terminates the Apocalypse; for in the seventh trumpet they celebrate the result of all, up to the judgment of the dead and the everlasting kingdom.
In chapter u the prophet makes the beast to ascend out of the bottomless pit without developing its history. Now he begins afresh, and although it is a fresh taking up of the thing, at the same time it is, as it were, the sequel. Having given the history of the world in general, he reserved the beast for a particular history; but when he comes to that, he takes his sources in heaven (that is, from Satan).
It will be noticed that chapters 12-14 go together. In chapter 12 we have the great elements, the bringing on the scene the principal actors, and all that relates directly to the power of Satan; in chapter 13 the instruments of that power in the world. Chapter 14 gives the ways of God, who intervenes in the midst of all that.
Chapter 12:1: “Clothed with the sun” is with supreme power. Verse 10: it is the beginning of the kingdom—not that it is yet established on the earth;22 but because he who hinders is cast out from heaven. His power, although not yet destroyed, is thrown into a more limited circle. It is no longer an influence from heaven. Satan on the earth is obliged to shew himself such as he is. As long as he is in heaven, he can exercise a deceitful influence; once upon the earth, he is obliged to unmask himself. “Our brethren” are those who on earth were yet aspiring to heaven. The church is already in heaven.
Chapter 13. Here we are in history. The beast rises out of the sea, not out of the bottomless pit, because it is a question of the history of the instruments, and not of the sources of power. It resembles the characters of the first three beasts of Daniel 7; and it is the fourth. It is (v. 3) a resurrection-beast; it is important to notice this in order to recognise it. Verse 5: “Continue forty and two months”; God will permit him to act during that time. It always seems to me that the “little horn” of Daniel 7 resembles this first beast much more than the second. Verse 8: “All that dwell upon the earth”; one must always distinguish them in the moral character of being settled down here, in contrast with those who by faith belong to heaven. Verse 10: God will not have force and violence; He will have the patience of faith.
Verse n: “Another beast.” Christianity is not the Lamb; for the Lamb is Christ personally. I have an idea that it is a power of the earth, a power which rises up from among the Jews, when all is organised, when the first beast is already there. The word “earth” is one to which one must pay great attention, in order to have the interpretation, because in Hebrew and Greek it means the organised earth, or else Judea. See this second case in Isaiah 24.
It had “two horns,” so as to resemble “a lamb.” For my part, I think that it is a false Christ in Judea, who will be the Messiah of the Jews and the agent of the Roman empire to persuade the Jews to submit to the beast.
Verse 13. Here he is acting as a prophet, and giving signs or wonders, as a proof that he is sent by Jehovah. Is it not said in 2 Thessalonians 2 that he owns no God? The answer is “Yes”; but the difficulty is completely removed by the testimony of Daniel 11, where we see that he does not “regard any god”; while at the same time he honours his god Mauzzim. Outwardly before the Jews, he will have a god; inwardly, he has none. In 2 Thessalonians 2 it is, to my mind, religious and moral.
Chapter 14 is the intervention of God in the midst of all these things. “An hundred forty and four thousand” are those who have suffered with Christ from the hands of the wicked Jews, like the remnant with David. Before the temple is built the true David reigns in Zion, and those who have suffered with Him reign with Him. They have a share in of heaven. They are not in heaven; but they sing the song of heaven. I do not know whether they are raised from the dead or changed. There are seven things in this chapter: verse 1, first; verse 6, second; verse 8, third; verse 9, fourth; verse 13, fifth; verse 14, sixth; and verse 17, seventh.
In the fifth section—the time when one ceases to be put to death for the Lord—it is “the dead,” particularly their character the diers, so to speak. This is the close of martyrdom. The diers in the Lord are blessed from that moment; they enter into the blessing which they have been waiting for. Hence it is finished—nothing remains but the coming of the Son of man. They are blessed from this time. I do not say that they die from henceforth. In the sixth it is the harvest or judgment where distinction is made; in the ninth, the vintage, where everything is trodden down. At His coming, He smites everywhere; but where all has not been against Him (“the isles”), He distinguishes; whilst in Edom, where the gathering together of the wicked ones takes place, all is trodden down.
Chapters 15, 16 are altogether separate. It is the wrath of God. This is not the same as the wrath of the Lamb. It is God acting in public government, and not Christ executing judgment in person. At the same time, it is unmingled judgment, because the saints who suffered under the beast are not ingathered and in glory.
Chapter 16 is the vials. We have here, as for the trumpets, the earth, the sea, the rivers, the sun: the sun becomes more scorching. Men would have this beast: they must know what it is. Fifth vial: the throne of the beast is the object. Sixth vial: the Euphrates is dried up. All the sources of prosperity are smitten. The plagues fall upon the men who worship the beast and did not repent. Also the sixth vial prepares the last great catastrophe. Verse 13: “The dragon” is the open energy and hostility of Satan; “the beast” is the Roman empire in its state of blasphemy, having again come up out of the bottomless pit; and “the false prophet “is he who pretended to be the sent one of God. In verse 16 we find ourselves again with Hebrew landmarks—Armageddon. It is, as in Judges 5, the gathering together of the kings to make war against God.
Verses 16, 18. “In the air”; because it is universal. What a solemn word— “It is done!” We have not yet the judgment of the beast. Up to this it is only what happens around; the judgment of the beast is another thing. “The earth “is where they have not received “the love of the truth”; then God sends them “strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” They unite with the rebellion of men under the government of God, and undergo direct judgment. They are smitten alive; whereas “the nations,” where Christianity has not had its seat, undergo the judgment in a less terrible manner. The Apocalypse brings us to the point where the apostasy of the church has led the world; it is an apostate concentration. It ends in this way on the earth. On the other hand, this book shews us also the end of all things for good by the rapture of the saints to heaven. To sum it all up, blessing is on high, judgment below.
Chapters 17, 18. It is not the beast in its particular history, but now its relationship with the harlot.
Chapter 17:1. “Upon many waters” means by the side of the waters. She has direct power over the beast, and her influence extends even over nations. Verse 3: For the Spirit this world is a wilderness. The beast has the royal colour, but the harlot is much more adorned. Verse 5: “Abominations of the earth” are idols. It is a mystery; it is not a clear thing, as if it were a city. If there were Nebuchadnezzar at Babylon, it would not be a mystery. One must seek here one or more characters. She is the cause of every persecution, and of all the blood which has been shed. Verse 8: The beast reappears with a diabolical character. Verse 9: “Mountains”are seats of authority in stability.
Verse 11. This eighth king is the beast itself; but it is, at the same time, one of the old forms which reappears (consuls, decemvirs, emperors—one knows not what; but it is “of the seven”. Verse 12: “They reign for the same time with the beast.” The ten horns belong to the beast; they are not the barbarians of the middle ages. Verse 17 means the horns, which destroy the harlot, not the “kings of the earth,” for they lament; chap. 18:9. We have here the end of Christendom; Christianity had ceased before this. These horns are indeed kings; but they are powers and kings at the same time. If the king falls, the power—the people—is always there.
Chapter 18:4-6. Two things are said to the saints: first, to come out of Babylon in order not to partake of her sins, nor of her judgment; secondly, to smite her. This warning, though placed in the account after the judgment of Babel, is addressed to the saints before the judgment.
Chapter 19:10. We must distinguish the prophetic Spirit from the Spirit sent from heaven. In the first case, it is the Spirit who declares things beforehand; in the second, it is the Spirit given after a work accomplished in redemption, as a seal of that work. This is important to distinguish, because the testimony of Jesus is not always the gospel.
From verse 11 to chapter 20:3 is the warrior judgment. What follows is rather the sessional judgment. Verse 11. The armies which accompany Him are the saints. Chap. 17:14: As to “heaven opened,” it is interesting to remark that, until Christ, heaven could not be opened. We find four times heaven opened in the New Testament. Firstly, at the time of the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3:21, 22); secondly, during the days of the Son of man, according to John 1:52 (this will be fully accomplished in the millennium; but already on the earth, His Person called for that, Luke 22:43); thirdly, at the death of Stephen, for the reception on high of the redeemed man; fourthly, in judgment. Rev. 19:15. “Out of his mouth”; “the word that I have spoken” to you, “the same shall judge,” etc. Verse 20. Those are the two which go first into the lake of fire. Others will be cast in somewhat later; Matt. 25.
Chapter 20. As for Satan, he is cast into the bottomless pit, because he is again to come out and deceive the nations afresh. In verse 4, besides the general expression, which says that they are on thrones, there are two classes named. Otherwise it might have been feared that these persons, those of the last half-week, the last raised from the dead, would not be found with the others; they are introduced here, in order that we may see their place. Christ, who comes like lightning, does not pass away like lightning. He sits down to judge. In verses 7-9, it is to be remarked that the saints do not suffer; there is a complete separation. That which belongs to God is gathered to the Lord who is there; but when “the camp of the saints “is surrounded, fire comes down out of heaven.
Verse 10. Satan, once cast down, never goes up again to heaven. In verse 11, “I saw a great white throne”; it is always sessional; but Christ is alone. There are no other thrones here, because it is a question of the dead; we shall not judge the dead. One must, moreover, pay attention to this, that Christ does not come for the judgment of the dead. He is already there when the moment arrives. Verse 13. This is to say, that all the rest of the dead were there.
Chapter 21:1-8. These verses continue the history. The Lamb is not named in these eight verses; it is not a mediatorial system. It is God “all in all.”
In chapter 21:9, we go back a little. It is one of the seven angels who shews the New Jerusalem to John. This remark may shew that we have not here a continuation of the history. There is also the contrast of the two cities. It needs a measure of spirituality to lay hold of the figures here. The city descended out of heaven; the origin of the church is heavenly. It is always twelve, because it is always a question of men, though it be in glory. “Gold” is divine righteousness. One sees the meaning of this symbol by the mercy-seat of gold which received the blood. As to “precious stones,” I do not know whether I could explain more than the light of God diversified in His saints; as, for instance, the light of the sun in a prism. God is light; and the church is the perfect prism, in which the light of God brings out in detail all the beauties of His glory. I find this varied expression of the perfection of God, first in the creature (or creation); secondly, in Christ, in the priesthood; thirdly, in glory for the church. It is God’s essential perfection, not manifesting itself essentially, but in a centre which shews its various beauties. All these figures furnish us with real ideas, which it is good to lay hold of. This is made very evident by the fact, that this varied glory has its history in creation, in grace, and in glory. The “gates” are twelve pearls; the beauty of the church appears directly. There was no temple therein: God is the temple of it; His proper glory insures His majesty. The city has God Himself for its light; but the city is itself the light of the nations; v. 23, 24. In verse 26, they bring their gifts “to” it, and not “into” it. Instead of each one worshipping his net (Hab. 1:16), they will own the God of glory, honouring Him and presenting to Him their gifts (in His city on this earth), as of old they offered oblations to Jehovah before His altar on the earth.
Chapter 22:3. All the ripe fruit which the life of Christ produces we eat of in heaven; all that is manifested (the leaves) will be administered in grace and healing on the earth. On the earth now, the church should be the manifestation of all this glory.
In this chapter there are three times “I come quickly.” Verse 7 is a warning for those who are in connection with the things said in this book—those who are found in the circumstances to which the prophecy applies. Verse 12. This is much more general; the consequence will be universal. In verse 16 Jesus no longer prophesies; He introduces Himself afresh. Then as soon as He announces Himself in His character for the church, namely, His Person and His coming, the cry of the bride is—“Come.” This (v. 17) is the complete picture of the church in the absence of Christ. Four things are there: first, the Holy Ghost; secondly, the bride waiting for Christ, knowing what He is for it; thirdly some weak ones, who have not yet entered into the affections of the bride, but at the same time belonging to Christ, and therefore invited to join their voices to its own. Fourthly and lastly, the church, the depositary of living waters, possessing the Holy Spirit in the absence of Christ, invites those from without to come and quench their thirst.
22 There is progress in the return of the Jews to God. First, they acknowledge their sad state and ask for deliverance in acknowledging that the nations cannot deliver, and that one must lean upon God. To this God responds. Secondly, they judge their sins between themselves and God; then the impression is much deeper. (Psa. 130. De profundis.) God responds to this also. These make two interventions of God in the restoring of His people.