It is necessary to bear in mind, if we have not observed it before, that Revelation 17 does not pursue the chronological course of the prophecy. It is an episode of special objects already treated, not being of the visions that carry us onward in historic sequence. It is a retrogressive description of Babylon in relation with the Beast and the kings, who were brought before us last under the Bowls of God’s wrath.
This chapter explains how it was that Babylon became so offensive to God, and wherefore He judged her thus sternly; while the destroying Beast and his horns await the breath and sword of the Lord’s mouth.. In giving the description of Babylon, the Holy Spirit enters yet more into an account of her relations with the powers, and gives important particulars of that imperial system of which Rev. 13 in its earlier verses told us not a little. Accordingly these are the two main objects of judgment brought before us in the chapter. Indeed the Beast’s judgment carries us beyond all into defeat under the hand of the Lamb, the details of which are reserved for chap. 19. We must therefore look now into the two objects, Babylon and the Beast.
The principle is clear. Man has always sinned in one or other of these two ways, looking now at evil in its broadest forms. The “strange woman” figures corruption, human nature indulging itself in its own selfish desires, irrespective of God’s will. The Beast is the expression of man’s will raising itself up in direct antagonism to God. In short one may be described as corruption, and the other as violence; for we see both before the deluge (Gen. 6:11, 12), and they go down to the close. More than this on the subject is given with great precision in scripture, because it is just the principle of sin in one or other form from the beginning.
Here then we read, “And one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, Come hither; I will show thee the judgment of the great harlot that sitteth upon the many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and they that dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”
“And he carried me away in Spirit into a wilderness.” It is a thorough waste as to the knowledge or enjoyment of God. So in Isaiah 21 the prophet opens the chapter with that which was far beyond the horizon of the keenest creature view: “the burden of the wilderness of the sea,” so different from the burden which he saw and gave in Rev. 13, 14, as “the golden city.” Hence some refer a “wilderness” here to the campagna of Rome, and its desolation under the Popes as contrasted with its prosperous and populous splendour under the Caesars. This is no doubt true and significant, though spiritual drought and dreariness seem more consonant to the Spirit’s expression.
A new symbol appears. “And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet-coloured beast,” the well-known emblem of the Roman empire, “full of names of blasphemy” in its wicked opposition to God, and invested with its special forms of power, but with a full combination, “having seven heads and ten horns.” For the Spirit of God regards it in its final shape and completeness, as far as it was to be attained. “And the woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and decked (or, gilded) with gold and precious stone and pearls.’ Nor is it perhaps unworthy of note, as has been remarked, that her officials alone in Christendom array themselves in these colours of the world’s glory.
Babylon is in direct contrast with the true church, and like the Lord, heavenly glory hers, but meanwhile despised and rejected of men. Everything that could attract the natural man was there; and all that which looks fairest ought to be, she thinks, devoted to religion. Religion! Ah! it is nothing but ecclesiastical pride and corruption as a whole, though individuals may groan in secret, shrinking back into base superstition through alarm at Protestant free thought or worldliness; a religion of grace and truth unknown, of indulgences in sin for money, of dogmatic falsehood like transubstantiation or papal infallibility, of the most bloodthirsty cruelty to real saints of God, of debasing honour to filthy relics, of blasphemous worship paid to saints, angels, and above all the Virgin. Granted that Rome holds a little that is true; but she is keener still for many a lie and fraud; and “no lie is of the truth,” says God’s word.
But here we see more, “having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and the unclean things of her fornication.”12 Idolatry is the awful stamp that she bears, and this too both in what she gives to man, and in what is written on her forehead before God. “And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth.” Her outward grandeur in numbers, rank, wealth, and pomp impose on high and low; but the plague-spot is her idolatry. As Israel’s was against the One God, so hers is more guiltily against the One Mediator, the divine and only remedy in grace and truth.
Men have been beguiled here and there, and from an early date, to set aside the true bearing of this chapter. Sometimes they have contended for its application to pagan Rome. Sometimes again they have sought to turn it aside toward Jerusalem in her corrupt state. But a grave consideration soon disposes of both views by her relation to the Beast, and by other particulars to be shown farther on. The application to old pagan Rome is harsh and purposeless enough; but the attempt to refer it to Jerusalem is of all schemes the most absurd. For, far from being borne up by the empire, Jerusalem was and is trodden down by it and other Gentile powers. If there was any nation since John’s day, which did not sustain but persecute and suppress Jerusalem, it was Rome, instead of presenting a gaudy harlot mounted on the proud and heartless empire.
The notion that what we have here is said of a future city of Babylon in Chaldea seems no less vain. There is a distinct contrast between the city now described and the ancient Babylon, in that the latter was built on the plain of Shinar, while the former is expressly said to have seven heads, and these explained to mean seven mountains or hills. There is no doubt more in the symbol than the literal hills of Rome, because they are said to be also seven kings or governing powers. Yet we are not at liberty to eliminate such a feature out of the description. It is written to be believed, not to be ignored or explained away. And the second sense of these mountains is as inapplicable to a Chaldean city as the first.
The attempt to apply Babylon to ancient Rome is further unhappy; and for a plain reason. As long as Rome was pagan, there was neither the full bearing of the seven heads, nor did so much as one of the ten horns exist. Any decem-regal division of the broken empire in the west was long after Rome had ceased to be heathen. Nobody can dispute that there arose a remarkable cluster of kingdoms in Europe, as the issue providentially of the fragments when the barbarians broke up the unity of the Roman empire. With that love of freedom which they carried from their wild forests, they destroyed the iron rule that bound men down, and set up their several kingdoms in the different parts of the dismembered empire. Thus the attempt to apply it during the pagan period is altogether futile on the face of the matter. Scripture affords much light to decide the true bearing of the prophecy; and no application to the past can possibly satisfy all the conditions satisfactorily. If ancient times fail fully to meet the requirements of the chapter, it is evident that the Middle Ages passed without any accomplishment as a whole; the Beast, in any consistent sense of the thing and word, was then non-existent. For the fulfilment of the prophecy, we must look onward to the latter day.
This falls in with what we have seen of the book in general. But it is not denied that certain elements which figure in the Apocalypse then existed and still exist. No one can soberly deny that Babylon in some sort had a place then; but that the special and the full character of Babylon was manifested as here portrayed is another matter. We may surely say her cup was not yet full. Not yet was that fairly out before men which God foresaw, as it finally provokes His judgment. Again it seems demonstrable that the relation to the Beast, at last brought before us, must in all fairness be allowed to look onward to a later stage of Babylon. Thus there is no question that some of the actors in the final scenes of the great drama were already there, as the reigning city, and the old Roman empire. Moral elements too were not wanting: the mystery of lawlessness had long been at work, though the enemy had not yet brought in the apostasy, still less the manifestation of the lawless one. But much as may have subsisted then, the Spirit here presents as a whole what cannot be found realised at any point of time in the past. We must perforce look for a still more complete development before the Lamb judges the Beast, after the ten horns along with him shall have destroyed Babylon. Did emperor or pope lead in this?
There is another remark to make. It is hard to see how Rome’s city, or anything civil connected with it, could be called “mystery.” Partly because of this, many excellent men have endeavoured to apply the vision to Romanism; and this religious system has an incomparably nearer connection with the mysterious harlot than anything yet spoken of. Rome in some form is the woman described in the chapter. The seven heads or hills clearly point to that city, which of all cities might best and indeed alone be known as ruling over the kings of the earth. There is therefore much truth in the Protestant application of the chapter, as compared with the Praeterist theory of pagan Rome. Yet it will be found imperfect, for reasons which ought to be clear to unbiassed and spiritual minds.
There stands the solemn brand graven, not on the blasphemous Beast but on the forehead of its rider, “Mystery, Babylon the great.” The question is, why is she thus designated? If only an imperial city, what has this to do with “mystery”? The simple fact of conquering far and wide, and of exercising vast political power in the earth, constitutes no title to such a name. A “mystery” points to something undiscoverable by the natural mind of man. It is a secret which requires the distinct and fresh light of God to unravel, but which when thus revealed becomes plain So it is with this very Babylon that comes before us. Justly does she gather her title from the old fountain of idols and of nature’s union for power without God. Confusion too is here the characteristic element. The designation is taken from the renowned city of the Chaldeans, the first spot notorious in both respects.
In short it would seem that God has hedged round His own draft of Babylon, so as to make it quits plain that Rome, city and system, figures in the scene. It may be taken to involve mediaeval application, though the full result will not be till the end of the ago. For where was the Beast after the past barbarian irruption and the resulting many-kingdomed state? Again, that it supposes Rome after it had professed the name of Christ is surely not to be doubted, if only from the expression “mystery” attached to Babylon. It clearly contrasts this mystery with another. We have not to learn what the other mystery means; we know well that it is according to God and of godliness. But here is a mystery altogether different: “Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth. And I saw the woman drunk with the. blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus; and seeing her, I wondered with a great wonder.”
Here were joined good and evil in godless union, for the worse, not for the better, an alliance unholy in principle, irremediable therefore in practice, between God and the natural man who substitutes rites for the quickening word of God’s grace, for the blood of Christ, and for the power of the Spirit; and who employs the name of the Lord as a cover for gross covetousness, ambition, and cruelty, yet more excessive than the vulgar world. All these things have their place in Babylon the great. She is the mother of the harlots, but also (and with still deeper guilt) of the abominations of the earth. This means the idolatries of the earth, real shameless idolatry too, not merely that subtle working of the idolatrous spirit that Christians had to guard against from early days (1 John 5:21). Here it is the positive worship of the creature besides the Creator, yea, and notoriously more than Him. For who knows not the horrors of Mariolatry? Babylon is the parent of the prostitutes and of the abominations (or, idolatries) of the earth. It is not therefore a question of virtual idols suitable to ensnare children of God, but of that open image worship which is of the earth itself, or rather of him who is the prince of the power of the air, thorough going palpable idolatry. What is the crucifix and the Mass? What the veneration of angels and saints? What the honour paid to dead men’s bones, hair, nail-parings, and old clothes? Relics indeed!
Such is God’s account of Babylon the great. Take notice of this (which confirms the true application), that when John saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus, he wondered with a great wonder. Had it been simply a persecution from pagan Rome, who could marvel at its contempt of the truth and hatred of those who confess it? That a proud heathen metropolis, devoted to the worship of Mars, of Jupiter, of Venus, and other wicked monstrosities of pagan mythology, should be irritated with the gospel which exposes it all, and should consequently persecute the faithful, must be expected, and is a necessary result, directly that the uncompromising spirit of Christianity was known. Had those who preached said nothing about idol vanities, were they content to present the gospel as a better thing than anything the pagans could boast, the pagans themselves might have acknowledged thus much. Indeed it is pretty well ascertained that there was a discussion among them, even to the suggestion by one of their emperors, whether Christ should not be owned and worshipped in the Pantheon, before Constantine, and not so far from the earlier ages of the gospel. But none ever thought of giving Christ the only place due to Him. For Christ, as the Son of the Father and witnessed by the Holy Spirit, must be not only supreme but exclusive. Nor was anything more repulsive and fatal to paganism in every form than the truth revealed in Christ, which necessarily displaces everything that is not itself, because He is the truth definite and complete. Consequently Christianity, as being directly aggressive on the falsehood of heathenism, was of all things the most obnoxious to Rome. That pagan Rome therefore must set itself against Christianity was to be expected; it could amaze no one.
But the prophet was astounded that a mysterious form of evil, the counter-testimony of the enemy (not antichrist, but antichurch), could seem, and should be largely accepted as, the holy catholic church of God. He did marvel greatly that Christendom, if not Christianity, should with such a claim become the bitterest of persecutors, more murderously incensed against the witnesses of Jesus and the saints than ever paganism had been in any country or during all ages. This naturally filled him with intense wonder.
“And the angel said to me, Wherefore didst thou wonder? “Had he really penetrated under the surface, and seen that beneath the fair guise of Christendom the woman was, of all things under the sun, the most corrupt and hateful to God, it would not be so surprising. Therefore says the angel, “I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, that hath13 the seven heads and ten horns. The beast that thou sawest, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose name was not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, beholding the beast that it was, and is not, and shall be present.”
The closing phase here is the description of the Beast in its last state, in which it will come into collision with Babylon. Let us bear this in mind. It will help to convince that, whatever may have been the past conditions of the Beast, here is a future one; and in that future one the Beast is to perish. For, remark, the Beast or Roman empire is described here as that which once existed, which then ceased to exist, and which assumes a final shape when it reappears from the abyss. Bad as pagan Rome was, it would be exaggeration to affirm that it ever had come out of the bottomless pit. When the apostle Paul wrote to the saints at Rome, he particularly specified the then duty of absolute subjection on the part of Christians to the powers then existing. Of course the application to the Roman empire would be immediate in the mind of any Christian at Rome. No one doubted the character of the emperor; there never had been a worse. Yet God took this very opportunity to lay it en the Christians as their duty to the worldly authority outside and over them. It was ruled generally that the worldly powers were ordained of God. But it is a very different thing to emerge from the abyss.
For there is a time coming when power will cease to be ordained of God. This is the point to which the last phase of the Beast refers. God in His providence did sanction the world-empires of old; and the principle continues as long as the church is here below. Hence we have to own the divine source of government, even when its holders abandon or have revoked all such thoughts themselves, but perhaps regard their rule in the world as a thing flowing from the people irrespectively of God. But the day is at hand when Satan will be allowed to have things his own way. For a short time (what a mercy that it is to be only so!) Satan will bring forth an empire suited to his purposes; as it will work on human self-will and the unbelief which denies God and Hi’; truth. It will be not only apostate but openly claiming to be God, and excluding the true God. But if thus it comes up out of the abyss, it is to go into perdition. It is added, “and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose name is not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that it was, and it is not and it shall be present.” “Yet is” is an unfortunate expression, but it is the fault of the bad Greek text of Erasmus, Stephens, etc. It should be, “and shall be present.”14 There is no thought of making such a paradox to perplex the mind. The true reading here is neither hard nor doubtful save to unbelief. There is no conundrum in the message whatever. It is all plain and simple reference to the Beast “that it was, and it is not, and it shall be present.”
No wonder that the earthly-minded wonder; for all this will be a great reversal of man’s history and political maxims. There never has been a like experience. What mighty empire has existed, then become extinct, and finally reappeared, with higher pretensions and peculiar power, only to perish with unexampled horrors? It is altogether foreign to history. One of the most approved axioms is that kingdoms are just like men in this respect, that they begin, rise, and fall. As man does not believe in the resurrection of man, it is no wonder that he does not look for the resurrection of the empire. The marked difference is that in a dead man’s case it is God who raises him, whereas for the defunct empire not God but the devil will revive it again. Beyond controversy it is so unusual and abnormal a reappearance that it is altogether exceptional in the world’s history. Accordingly the resuscitated Roman empire will carry men away by a storm of wonder at its revival. Little do they know, because they believe not what is here written, that it is to come out of the abyss. That is, Satan will be the spring of its final rise and strange energy; he, and not God in any way whatever, will give it its character; as also he gives it his power and his throne and great authority.
“Here is the mind that hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. And there (or, they) are seven kings.” The double force of the symbol has been already touched on. “The five are fallen, the one is, the other did not yet come.” That is, the sixth head (reigning in that day) was the imperial form of government. Can anything of the sort be plainer? It is a time-note of signal value. The seventh should follow for a little; and the seventh was in one respect to be an eighth. “And the beast which was, and is not, even he is an eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into destruction.” If in one sense an eighth, in another sense it would be of the seven; “eighth” perhaps, because of its extraordinary resurrection character, yet “one of the seven” because it is outwardly a head of rule again. This explains the wounded head that was afterwards healed. It is of the seven in that point of view, because it is old imperialism; but it is an eighth, because it has a diabolical source and strangely new character when raised up again. There never had been anything of the kind before.
“And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which received no kingdom yet; but they receive authority as kings (not at, but for) one hour with the beast.” They are all to reign concurrently with the Beast. This also is a no less important element for understanding the chapter. All who have looked back on the history know that when the ten kings appeared there was no real Beast or imperial power. It was the destruction of the imperial unity of Rome that gave occasion for the well-known kingdoms (ten, less or more) which the Gothic and other barbarians set up afterwards. We know that sometimes shore were nine or less, sometimes eleven or more; but supposing all this perfectly clear and true according to history, they did not receive their power as kings for one and the same time with the Beast.
The very reverse is the undeniable fact. They received their power as kings when the Beast ceased to exist. Thus the difference is complete between past history (if we look at the extinction of the empire and the rise of the divided kingdoms) and the certain fulfilment of the prophecy in the future, when we believe what God has really told us. The language is neither difficult nor ambiguous. Man alone is to blame who has misapplied it. Yet one allows freely a partial application already. We can quite understand that God would comfort His people in the dark ages by this book; and a very imperfect glimpse at its real meaning might in His grace serve to cheer them on in their trials as far as it went. From Rome saints had suffered; and it was easy to see that the revealed persecutress is called Babylon, but identified with the governing city of Rome. So far they were right. Nor is there any rem reason to wonder at their deriving help from partial light. It was but an imperfect view they had even of justification; a far scantier perception, if they could be said to have had any, about Christ’s headship of the church, His priesthood, or almost anything else. And how little a glimpse had they of prophecy! But we can understand that the Lord could and did make that little go far, and do no little good.
But is there any reason why we should content ourselves with the measure enjoyed of old? Such is the hard bondage which historical tradition imposes on its votaries. Holding on to what others knew before them or little more, they reduce themselves to a minimum of the truth. When God is gracious, His word rich, full, and deep, is it not sad to see His children satisfied with just enough to save their souls, or keep them from positive starvation? In presence of grace surely this is not for His glory, any more than for their own blessing. The only right principle in everything is to go to the sources and streams of divine truth, there to seek refreshment and strength and fitness for whatever our God calls us to. Unquestionably He has been of late awakening the attention of His children remarkably to the value of His word, and not least of all to the portion we are now examining.
It is plain that the verse contemplates a new state of things in the future, and neither the Roman power when there was one head of empire, nor the eastern or Byzantine part of it after that partition, still less in the west the state of division under the kings who succeeded the deposition of Augustulus. In the mediaeval state there may have been ten kings (in contrast with the ancient state of the Beast without them), but no Beast or imperial system with its subordinate chiefs or vassal kings. This is what drove men to the idea of making the pope to be the Beast. But the idea is wholly insufficient to cover or meet the word of God, which gives clear and strong reasons to prove the mistake of applying this to the pope as its complete meaning or fulfilment. For that which comes distinctly before us in this one verse is the twofold fact that the ten horns here contemplated receive their kingly power for the same hour or time as the Beast, not subsequently when his rule was extinguished. He on the contrary receives his power and they receive theirs for one and the same time. They are contemporaneous.
This disposes of many a web of comments; for we find at once what is simple enough for any child of God who believes this to be God’s word for us to understand. Bringing in history has embroiled the subject; and those who appeal most to its evidence are the men who seem in this to ignore plain facts. But the most ordinary knowledge suffices; for who does not know from the Bible that there was a Roman empire when Christ was born, ruled by Caesar Augustus, and no such state as that empire divided into ten kingdoms? Of course there must needs be a consultation with the kings, when the kings become an accredited part of that empire, as rulers subordinate to the Beast. But then it was an absolute decree that went forth, and this indisputably from a single head of the undivided empire. Centuries after came in, not only the division into cast and west, but the broken up state of the west, when there ceased to be an imperial head. But the prophecy points to the Beast revived and the ten subject kings reigning over its western breadth for the same time, before divine judgment destroys them all at the coming of Christ and of His saints with Him. Hence this certainly must be future.
Now this precisely fits in, let me say, with the state of feeling in these modern times; for “constitutionalism,” as men call it, is the fruit of the Teutonic system supervening on that of the broken up Roman empire. It was the barbarians who brought in the prevalent ideas of feudalism and of liberty. Accordingly they have firmly stood for freedom; so that all efforts to reconstitute the empire which have been tried over and over again have hitherto issued in total failure. The great reason is manifest: there is a hindrance — “one that letteth.” It cannot be done till the moment comes. When its own season arrives, as it surely will, the divine hinderer is to be “out of the way,” and the devil is then allowed to do his worst. The political side of this is described here with surprising brightness and brevity. The ten horns with the Beast are all to receive authority, the Beast of course wielding the imperial power, they as kings reigning, all during one and the same time before the end comes. Clearly therefore it is future. It is impossible to refer it to the past with any show even of reasonable probability, to say nothing of reality or truth. Scripture and facts refute all such theories.
“These have one mind, and give their own power and authority to the beast.” Hitherto the reverse of this has been verified in history. The horns have constantly opposed each other, and even sometimes the pope. Since then the world has not seen the imperial power to which all bow. Have we not all heard of “the balance of power”? This is what nations have been constantly occupied with, lest any one power should become the Beast. If some few have joined on one side, some are sure to help the other; because they are jealous of any one acquiring such a preponderant authority and power as to govern the rest. But in the time really contemplated all this political shuffling will be over. Then when Satan’s success seems complete, the Lord has His word to say. “these shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them (for he is Lord of lords and King of kings), and they that are with him, called, and chosen, and faithful.” His saints, already on high, come with Him. It is the second act of His coming.
But still we have more to hear of Babylon yet. Her part in the corruption of the high and the intoxication of the low — her idolatrous character — has come before us. We have seen her misguidance of the Beast; but a collision comes. The woman had been allowed to ride the Beast, to influence and govern the empire first. But the friendships of the bad, as the Stagirite felt, do not last. At last she becomes the object of hatred to the ten horns and the Beast, who expose, rob, and destroy her. “And he saith to me, The waters which thou sawest, where the harlot sitteth, are peoples, and crowds, and nations, and tongues; and the ten horns which thou sawest and the beast, these shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her with fire. For God gave to their hearts to do his mind, and to do one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast until the words of God shall be fulfilled. And the woman which thou sawest is the great city which hath kingship over the kings of the earth.” “The waters” indicate her influence stretching out far beyond the empire. It is a sad fact, and the words a true prediction.
The Gothic hordes were not yet incorporated with the empire, still less were they horns of the Beast, nor did they give their power to it but rather destroyed it. They broke up the Beast yet more than Babylon. Past history therefore in no way suits the prophecy. “And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast.” Here we must say that our Authorised Version, and not merely it but the common uncritical Greek Testaments, are quite astray. This is known so well, and on such decided grounds, that it would be unbecoming to withhold the fact. There is no uncertainty whatever in the case. It is certain that we ought to rend (not “upon” but) “and15 the beast” — a difference of great importance The horns and the Beast join in hating the harlot. Not only are they supposed to be co-existent, but united in their change of feeling against Babylon. “These shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.”
It is not the gospel nor the Holy Spirit, but the lawless revived Latin empire with its vassal kingdoms of the west, which combine to destroy Babylon. Unhallowed love will end in bitter hate. They will then treat her with contempt and shameful exposure. Next they will seize her resources. Finally they will destroy her. Can anything be less reasonable than that the various rulers of the western powers, catholic kings, join the pope in destroying his own city, or his own church, whichever Babylon may be made? Some evade the difficulty by referring the desolation to the Gothic powers; and these pious Protestants, as if they were mere Praeterists! What confusion! Is there not reason enough for saying that not even the shadow of solid ground appears for the system, when it denies the future crisis?
Hence the effort of some to prop up a manifestly false reading. It is due to the exigency of a notion which fears and is irreconcilable with the truth in this place. “The ten horns which thou sawest AND the beast” gives unquestionably the right sense of the verse. But it disproves the Protestant historicalism which refuses to allow an evil to come worse even than popery.
Thus everything implies their simultaneous presence for the same time and for common action with the Beast, in plundering and then destroying Babylon. God uses them for this object, their at length setting her aside, the great religious corruptress, whose centre is found at Rome. We can easily understand that the overthrow of the ecclesiastical power is necessary to leave a field unimpeded for the imperial power to develop itself in its final form of apostasy, blasphemy, and rebellion against the Lord. For religion, be it ever so corrupt, acts as a restraint on human will, as an ordinary government does, however evil. Even the worst of governments is better than none. That a corrupt religion is better than none, one does not say: but it may trouble men, putting a thorn in the side of those who want no religion at all. Hence the horns and the Beast join together and desolate the harlot. That kings had dallied with her, that the Beast had once borne her up, will only turn to gall the more bitter for her, who, faithless to God, had staked the usurped and abused name of Christ to Will worldly power and glory now lost for ever. “For God gave to their hearts to do his mind, and to do one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.” It is a time of strong delusion, be it remembered.
“And the woman whom thou sawest is the great city which hath kingship over the kings of the earth.” None but Rome corresponds. “The woman” is the more general symbol designating her as the great imperial city; “the harlot” is her corrupt religious character, embracing papal Rome but extending to the apostate days of the Beast and the Antichrist.
Chapter 18 need not delay us long. It is not. the warning beforehand, as in Rev. 14, announcing Babylon’s fall before the fact; nor is it its exact place as the last of the Bowls of God’s wrath; nor yet as in Rev.17 the relation of Babylon to the Beast and the kings of the earth in contrast with the Bride’s to the Lamb and the millennial kings as in Rev. 21. It is the catastrophe viewed as come, with a preceding call to God’s people, and consequent on her ruin the lamentations of all from kings to seamen over her who had contributed to their pleasure and earthly greed. But there is a call for the joy of heaven, and of saints, apostles, and prophets, that God has judged her, the shameless deceiver and prostitute.
Thus runs the introduction. “And after these things I saw another angel descending out of the heaven, having great authority: and the earth was lightened with his glory, and he cried, saying, Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great, and become a habitation of demons, and a hold of every unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hated bird; because of the wine of the fury16 of her fornication all the nations have drunk, and the kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich by the might of her luxury. And I heard another voice out of heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and that ye receive not of her strokes; for her sins reached up to the heaven, and God remembered her unrighteousnesses. Award her, even as she awarded, and double to her double according to her works: in the cup which she mixed, mix to her double. How much she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, so much give her torment and grief: because she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and I am no widow, and in no wise shall I see grief. For this reason in one day shall come her strokes, death, and grief, and famine; and she shall be burnt with fire; for strong [is] the Lord God that judgeth her.”
It is a description, as we readily see, not of the corrupt woman’s relation to the Beast but of the city’s fall, with certain dirges put into the month of the different classes that groan because of her extinction here below. But along with that, God warns of her total ruin, and calls on His people (verse 4) to come out of her. “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins reached up to the heaven, and God remembered her unrighteousnesses.” Then the word is, “Award her even as she awarded you, and double to her double according to her works: in the cup which she mixed, mix to her double. How much she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, so much give her torment and grief: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and I am no widow, and I shall in no wise see grief.”
Babylon is viewed in this chapter not so much in her mysterious and religious form, giving currency to every kind of confusion of truth and error, of good and evil, intoxicating, corrupting, and seducing, as all can see, through her wickedly ecclesiastical influence; she is regarded here as the most conspicuous aider and abettor of the world in its luxuries and delicacies and the pride of life, or what men call “civilisation.”
This is accordingly traced in our chapter with considerable detail, and unto the sorrow and vexation of all the different classes who on the fall of Babylon groaned over her destruction, and the loss of their wealth and enjoyment, or their occupation.
“And the kings of the earth, that committed fornication with her and lived luxuriously, shall weep and wail over her, when they behold the smoke of her burning, standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Woe, woe, the great city Babylon, the strong city, because in one hour came thy judgment. And the merchants of the earth weep and grieve over her, because no one buyeth their lading any more, lading of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet; and all thyine wood, and every vessel of ivory, and every vessel of precious wood; and of brass, and of iron, and of marble; and cinnamon, and spice, and incense.” Nor are these by any means all. “And unguent, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and cattle and sheep, and of horses and chariots, and of bodies, and souls of men. And the ripe fruits thy soul desired are departed from thee, and all the fair and bright things are perished from thee, and they shall find them no more at all. The merchants of these things, who were enriched by her, shall stand afar off for fear of her torment, weeping, and grieving, saying, Woe, woe, the great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls, for in one hour so great wealth was desolated. And every steersman, and every one sailing to a place, and sailors, and as many as ply their work on the sea stood afar off, and kept crying as they beheld the smoke of her burning, saying, What [city] is like the great city 7 And they cast dust upon their heads, and kept crying, weeping, and grieving, saying, Woe, woe, the great city in which all that had ships in the sea were enriched by her costliness; for in one hour was she desolated. Rejoice over her, heaven, and ye saints and ye apostles and ye prophets; for God judged your judgment upon her.”
Yet is it a profound error to infer from the divine denunciation of her far-reaching and malignant influence as the centre, and factor, and patron of the world’s luxury, that so vast an impulse to commerce is Babylon’s worst virus. That she, proclaiming herself the church, should thus play the harlot instead of being a chaste virgin for Christ, is no doubt monstrously false and evil. But to combine idolatry with the Lord’s name is viler still and unpardonable before God; to which must be added her implacable and deadly hatred of all that truly bear witness to God and His Anointed.
But the graphic account does not end until the Spirit of God shows us another figure of Babylon’s downfall. “And a strong angel took up a stone as a great millstone, and cast [it] into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall be cast down Babylon the great city, and shall be found no more at all; and voice of harp-singers and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no artificer of any art shall be found any more at all in thee; and voice of millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee; and light of lamp shall shine no more at all in thee; and voice of bridegroom and bride shall be heard no more at all in thee; because thy merchants were the grandees of the earth, because by thy sorcery all the nations were deceived. kind in her was found blood[s] of prophets and saints, and of all that were slain on the earth.” The reason is given at the close; not only “for by thy witchcraft were all the nations deceived,” but above all “and in her was found blood of prophets and saints, and of all that were slain on the earth.”
What a solemn and weighty fact in the government of God! How can it be said that this vile, corrupt, idolatrous system of the last days was guilty of the blood of all the martyrs? She followed and had inherited the spirit of all, from the days of Cain, who had lifted up their hands against their righteous brethren. Instead of taking warning from the wickedness of those before her, who had seduced on the one hand and persecuted on the other, she had, when she could, gone on increasing in both, until at last the blow of divine judgment came. It is thus that God is wont to deal as a rule in His judgments, not necessarily on the one that first introduces an evil, but on those that inherit the guilt and perhaps aggravate it, instead of being warned by it. When God does judge, it is not merely for the evil fruits of those then judged but for all from its first budding till that day. Far from being unrighteous, this is, on the contrary, the highest justice from a divine point of view in public government.
We may illustrate it by the members of a family, and suppose, for instance, a drunken father. If the sons had a spark of right feeling, not only must they feel the utmost shame and pain on account of their parent, but they would endeavour (like the two sons of Noah, who had a due sense of what was proper) to cast some mantle of love over that which they could not deny, yet would not look at; but surely above all things they would watch against that shameful sin Alas! there is a son in the family, who, instead of being admonished by his father’s sin, tales licence from it to indulge in the same. On him the blow falls, not on the unhappy parent The son is doubly guilty, because he saw his father’s nakedness, yet felt it not enough to turn away in silent sorrow. He ought to have felt the shame as holily hating the sin itself, yet withal in deep compassion for his parent But far from this, the unwitting exposure he wilfully exposed in mockery, not in grief. Then and thus is guilt aggravated in the case of his wicked son.
It is a similar case here. Babylon had once heard the varied testimony of God; for what had she not heard of truth? The gospel had been preached at Rome, as she of Chaldea had heard of law and prophet. The Roman Babylon too must hear the final testimony of God, the gospel of the kingdom that is to go forth in the last days; but she loves earthly pleasure and power, and refuses truth in any measure. She despises everything really divine; she will only use whatever of God’s word she can pervert for increasing her own importance, and gaining a greater ascendancy over the consciences of men, whilst enjoying herself more luxuriously in the present life. For it is here to obliterate all remembrance of heaven, and to make this world such a paradise as suits her, which she embellishes, not with pure and undefiled religion, but with the arts of men, the idolatries of the world, and the snares of Satan.
This it is which will bring out the indignant judgment of God upon the last phase of Babylon, so that the guilt of all blood of holy ones shed on the earth shall be imputed to her, and she may be judged accordingly. It does not hinder, of course, that in the judgment of the dead each man is judged for his own sin. This remains true. The day of the Lord on the world in no way sets aside His dealing with souls individually for eternity. The judgment of the dead is strictly individual judgments in this world are not. His blows on the quick come more nationally as on Israel; incomparably more severe, as in possession of greater privileges, is the judgment of corrupt Christendom, or Babylon here so called. But according to His principle of government it is not merely personal guilt, but that which, from despising the testimony of God, thus morally accumulates from age to age in the ratio of the testimony of God and of men’s wickedness indulged in spite of it. All Israel too shall be saved (Rom. 11:26) as a people, and for the glory of Jehovah on the earth. But there is neither restoration nor mercy for Babylon, but unmitigated destruction, extinction at length through God’s indignant judgment.
“After these things I heard as a great voice of a great crowd in the heaven, saying, Hallelujah, the salvation, and the glory, and the power of our God: for true and righteous [are] his judgments; because he judged the great harlot, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. And a second time they said, Hallelujah; and her smoke goeth up unto the ages of the ages.” The Spirit of God contrasts with the fall of Babylon the marriage of the bride, the Lamb’s wife.17 Babylon was the spurious church as long as the church was in question, and the final corrupter, when churches were no longer, and there came forth the closing testimony of God’s judgments on the world. There was an unclean form of open heathenism, in connection with the Jews in times past. Then it was the literal Babylon, of course; here it is symbolical. A mysterious lawlessness inherits the well-known name of Babylon when Rome is brought forward; nor does it merely embrace Christian times but the end of the age after the saints are gone, when the course of divine judgment sets in. Bear this in mind: to leave the last part out is fatal to any accurate understanding of the Revelation.
“And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and did homage to God that sitteth on the throne, saying, Amen, Hallelujah.” The heavenly saints are viewed still as the heads of the glorified priesthood, and also have the administration of God’s government. But it is the last time. “And a voice out of the throne came forth, saying, Praise our God, all ye his bondmen, [and] ye that fear him, the small and the great. And I heard as a voice of a great crowd, and as a voice of many waters, and as a voice of strong thunders, saying, Hallelujah, for the Lord God the Almighty reigneth.18 Let us rejoice and exult, and give the glory to him: because the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife made herself ready” The elders as usual understand the mind of God. The judgment of great Babylon, the harlot, connects itself with the marriage of the Lamb in heaven, and the bride’s getting ready to share His appearing in glory also, and the reign of the Lord God the Almighty about to begin over the earth. Now that we have the symbol of the bride before us, that of the elders and the living creatures disappears. The bride is in view, and the guests.
Are we then to understand that the elders and the living creatures are together taken absolutely as the bride now? that those who were meant under the figures of the elders and of the living creatures assume the name and figure of the bride? It hardly means this exactly. The elders answer to the heads of the heavenly priesthood (embracing in the glorified state the Old Testament saints and those of the New); they are by no means limited to the church, Christ’s body. When the Lamb and His purchase by blood were celebrated in heaven, the four living creatures joined the elders, though hitherto quite distinct. The glorified saints are not royal priests only but administer power in the world to come far beyond angels now. The living creatures were from Revelation 5 coupled with the elders, as we find them in the beginning of Revelation 19.
But now, when those symbols disappear because of a new action of God (namely, the consummation of the church’s joy), we have not the bride alone but another class of saints, who at once come forward. Only one thing, as far as scripture speaks and we know, was requisite. The saints must all be manifested before the tribunal of Christ, that each may receive the things [done] in [or through] the body. In full grace they had been changed and translated to heaven. But righteousness has its place also, before the marriage as well as in the manifestation with Christ, each in due place. Thus, it would seem, the bride made herself ready; and her dress confirms it. “And to her was given that she should be clothed in fine linen, bright and pure: for the fine linen is the righteousnesses of saints.” This is sometimes misunderstood. It is not what Christ puts on them, but a recognition even at this time of whatever has been morally of God, the working undeniably of the Spirit of Christ. But this each saint has, though the blessed thought here is that the church has it not merely in the way of each possessing his own; the bride has it as a whole, the church in glory. The individual does not love his own fruit. This romaine true also in its own place, as we shall find; and when it is a question of reward, it is the grand point. But when the bride is seen above, such is the way in which it is presented here, as shown by verse 8. The Spirit of God implies that here it is not the righteousness Christ is made to us, whereby we are accounted righteous, but righteousnesses personal and actual. What Christ is remains as the foundation truth. Before God we need and have that which is found only by and in Christ, which has another and a higher character compared with the righteousnesses of the saints.
But this is not all. “He saith to me, Write, Blessed [are] they that are called unto the marriage-supper of the Lamb.” Here ample ground appears for saying that the four-and-twenty elders and the four living creatures are not the church only, because when the bride comes forward, we have others too. The guests, or those that were called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb, refer clearly to the Old Testament saints. They are there in the quality not of the bride but of those invited to the marriage of the Lamb. They can hardly be the Apocalyptic saints, for the simple reason that, as shown in the next chapter, those sufferer unto death are not yet raised from the dead. These remain as yet in the condition of separate spirits. But not such is the way in which the guests are spoken of.
It seems therefore to be incontrovertible fact that the elders and the living creatures comprehend both the Old Testament saints and the church or the bride of Christ. Consequently, when the bride appears, those others, the Old Testament saints who had been included in the elders and the living creatures, are now seen as a separate company. This may seem to some a little difficult, but it is of no use to evade difficulties. We have to face what seems hard, bowing to the word and seeking to learn through all. We do not mend matters by foregone or hasty conclusions, which only complicate the truth, as we are bound to account for the presence of the other saints at the marriage-supper of the lamb, who appear as guests, not in the quality of the bride. In general this has been either passed over altogether, or some unsatisfactory inference has been drawn which cannot satisfy but embroils the prophecy.
“And he saith to me, These are the true sayings of God. And I fell before his feet to do him homage; and he saith to me, See [thou do it] not: I am fellow-bondman of thee and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus. Do homage to God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” ‘The last is a reciprocal sentence, which admits of either member preceding or following, as they are equivalent. “The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus.”
John’s error gave rise to a weighty admonition. It is not only that the angel corrects the act by asserting that he is a fellow-servant of him and of his brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. On this account it was wholly wrong to pay homage to him instead of to the God who had sent him to serve. But he tells us further that the spirit of prophecy that characterises this boor; is the testimony of Jesus. Thus divine testimony is not confined to the gospel or to the church, but the prophetic spirit which is peculiar to the Revelation as a whole, after the church is translated, is equally the testimony of Jesus. This is most important, because it might be (as it has been) forgotten by those who make the gospel and the corresponding presence of the Spirit to be the same at all times; as others have thought (because after Revelation 4, 5 the sequel treats of Jew separate from Gentile, and the world an object of God’s judgments) that this cannot be a testimony of Jesus. But “the spirit of prophecy” (such it is all through the Revelation after the seven churches are done with) “is the testimony of Jesus.” To us the Holy Spirit is rather as a spirit of communion with Christ. This was the new and special privilege of Christianity. By-and-by, after our translation to heaven, He will work, and as vitally, in those who bow to God in the reception of the prophetic testimony, which is here owned to be none the less “the testimony of Jesus.”
“And I saw the heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon [called] faithful and true, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war; and his eyes a flame of fire, and upon his head many diadems, having a name written which no one knoweth but himself, and clothed with a garment dipped in blood; and his name is called The Word of God.”
Thus heaven is opened, and for a sight most solemn. It is not now the temple opened there, and the ark of the covenant seen when Israel’s remembrance comes to view as the object of God’s counsels; nor is it a door opened above, as we saw when the prophet was given his introduction to the prophecy of God’s dealings with the world as a whole: though in both cases all manifestly clusters round the Lord Jesus. But now the heaven is itself opened for yet graver facts, and of incalculable moment for man and the universe and the enemy. Christ Himself is about to be displayed enforcing His rights as King of kings, and Lord of lords; and this in the face of the world. Victorious power put forth to subdue is the meaning of the white horse. It is no longer a question of sustaining His saints in grace, but of sovereign power for judging the earth. There was judicial discernment with the distinct possession of all titles to sovereignty. Only now is He seen with this royal or imperial emblem. We learn hence how mistaken it is to conceive of the Lord as King in the preliminary vision of Rev. 1, “the things which John saw.” This is not His relation to the churches, or “the things which are.” He is the long-robed Priest judging them, and finally setting them aside, before “the things which are about to take place after these.” Nor is this emblem of His coming forth to judge and reign over the earth seen while the glorified are in heaven, as in Rev. 4, 5; nor in fact in any scene on high till the Lord comes forth to take His inheritance in person as here.
He appears in indisputable human glory; but the greatest care is taken to let us know that He had that which was above man and the creature in general; for “no one knoweth the Son but the Father.” Have we not here what answers to those words? This name none knew but He Himself. He was a divine person, whatever new position He assumes towards the world. His vesture dipped in blood shows that He comes to execute vengeance, an unmistakable sign of death for rebels. He had been the Word of God in the revelation of grace; when known by-and-by, it will be as the executor of God’s judgments. In both ways He equally expresses what God is. The Gospel and the Revelation of John perfectly disclose both, whether it be in grace or in judgment.
“And the armies that [were] in the heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white, pure. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp [two-edged] sword, that with it he might smite the nations; and he shall rule (or, tend) them with an iron rod; and he treadeth the winepress of the fury of God the Almighty. And he hath upon his garment and upon his thigh a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Here we learn of what His train consists. They are glorified saints, though no doubt angels may be there also. This is confirmed by Rev. 17:14, where it was told us that saints are with Him when He comes. When the Beast dares to fight with the Lamb, He shall overcome the Beast; and they that are with Him, “called and chosen and faithful” — terms, as a whole, entirely inapplicable to the angels. The angels are never “called,” although they may be “chosen”; and though termed holy, they are never spoken of as “faithful.” “Faithful” is what belongs to a man of God. It supposes the exercise and the object of faith. “Called” would be most evidently out of court, because calling supposes that the person is brought out of one condition and raised into another and a better one. This is never the case with an angel. Fallen angels are not called, and holy angels never need to be — they are kept. Calling is the fruit of active grace on God’s part toward man, and only toward him when fallen. Even man himself when he was innocent in Eden was not “called.” Directly he sinned, the word of God came, and he was called by grace through faith.
It is evident therefore, that the saints in a glorified state are here represented as following the Lord out of heaven. They are not seen now as the bride. This would have been altogether inappropriate for such a progress. When the King comes forth riding to victory in the judgment of the wicked in the world, it is not in the quality of bride but of armies or hosts that the saints follow Him. But they include no doubt the guests as well; all the glorified saints of O. and N.T. take their place in His train.
Nevertheless it may be remarked, that these saints are not said to be executers of judgment as Christ is.19 It is to Him that God has given all judgment, not necessarily to us. We may have a special task in it; but this is not the work for us. We are to judge the world, even angels (1 Cor. 6); but this will be in our reigning with Christ. Hence there is no sword proceeding out of our mouth; nor are the saints or heavenly hosts said to be arrayed in such a fashion as the Lord. It is simply said that the glorified are to follow the Lord in victorious power, and nothing more “clothed in fine linen, bright, pure.” Angels, we know from other scriptures, will be there; yet of this we hear nothing here. But “out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron.” What makes it all the more notable is that the rod of iron is promised to us, not the sword. There is the reigning dignity, but not the execution of judgment in the awful emblems attributed to the Lord Himself. For He “treadeth the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty,” another character of judgment never attributed to the saints. “And he hath upon his garment and upon his thigh a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords.” Supremacy of rule and lordship belongs to Him no less than to the Father, or God as God (1 Tim. 6:15).
The proclamation of the angel follows, inviting all birds of prey to the supper of the great God, to eat the flesh of all the great and small of the earth. “And I saw an (one) angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a great voice, saying to all the birds that fly in mid-heal on, Come, gather yourselves together unto the great supper of God; that ye may eat flesh of kings, and flesh of chiliarchs, and flesh of strong ones, and flesh of horses, and of those that sit on them, and flesh of all, both free and bond, both small and great.” A sad and humbling end for human pride at any time; saddest of all after the corruption of the church and apostasy from law and gospel, when modern civilisation will have proved itself faithless and hostile to God and His Son.
Lastly comes the gathering and the battle. “And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken” (caught alive), “and with him the false prophet that wrought signs before him, with which he deceived those that received the mark of the beast, and those that worshipped his image.” The second Beast is no longer seen as an earthly power, but as a prophet, of course the False Prophet. All the energy to mislead men in the presence of the first Beast was long in his hands; now nothing more is spoken of. Thus he is morally judged. So from Daniel 7, and Daniel 9 we may see that the Roman emperor (who professes himself then the firm ally of the Jews) overrules covenants, however firm, and puts down any deference to sacrifice or offering, times or laws. His will is supreme, and dictates the protection of abominations or idols; and the False Prophet carries it out.
“Alive the two were cast into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.” Thus eternal judgment was executed at once. They were caught in flagrant treason and rebellion against Jehovah and His Christ: what further need of any process of judgment! “And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat on the horse, which [sword] proceedeth out of his mouth: and all the birds were filled with their flesh.” Their doom was just, but by no means after the same sort as the two leaders; theirs was condign. But how sad for us to think that so it will be with the kingdoms of the west, and that their services with their kings and captains are thus to perish! Is not Great Britain to be one of them? Can Christian men suffer their eyes to be darkened by leaders who do not believe prophecy in general and sneer at this profound book in particular?
A new and immensely important fact is described — the binding of Satan. He is no longer to be allowed to prowl about the world ensnaring and destroying. It is not his final judgment. “And I saw an angel coming down from the heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years and cast him into the abyss, and shut and sealed [it] over him, that he should no more deceive the nations, till the thousand years should be completed: after these things he must be loosed a little time.” The unclean spirits when cast out by the Lord deprecated consignment to the abyss before the time. Immense will be the relief for man and the earth when they are thus shut up, as we see their prince here.
Then we come to a disclosure of wondrous blessing. “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them: and [I saw] the souls of those beheaded on account of the witness of Jesus, and on account of the word of God: and those who did not homage to the beast, nor his image, and received not his mark upon their forehead, and upon their hand; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Not many words are required to show that it is no mere figure of the new birth on the one hand, or of a flourishing state for the gospel or the church. It is the foreshadow of a real resurrection. Here the vision was of thrones with sitters already there, and of others now caused to join them, who had suffered unto death for the truth; of which the inspired explanation is, “This the first resurrection.” Let us look at the different groups that have part in the first resurrection.
First, the thrones were already filled. Instead of judgment being executed on them, it was “given to them.” They themselves were to judge. Scripture is clear that the saints are destined to be invested with judicial authority of a glorious nature. We shall reign with Christ. These are the same saints whom we have seen set forth by the twenty-four elders in heaven, next, by the bride and the guests at the marriage-supper of the Lamb, and finally by the armies that followed Him out of heaven. They are the heavenly saints generally up to the Lord’s coming to receive and set them in the Father’s house.
It is no longer a question either of celebrating the preliminary ways of God’s government, or of the war with the Beast and kings of the earth. Accordingly we have the power of evil restrained beyond all example; and ruling in righteousness as never seen before. There are thrones filled with persons come from heaven in the train of Christ, who now reign along with Him. The language of symbol is as definite as any other. There is no lack of precision, but the very reverse. Peculiarly compact energy attaches to symbolic language.
But there is, in the details which come next, much of interest and consequence to observe, in that an accession follows of the souls of those beheaded on account of the witness of Jesus, and on account of the word of God. These are the martyrs of Rev. 6:9-11, long before seen under the altar, and poured out like burnt-offerings to God. They had cried to the Sovereign ruler to avenge their blood on their foes, but were told they must wait a little for others, their fellow-bondmen and their brethren, to be killed as they were. Here accordingly we have them all. For there is added another company of faithful men who suffered when the Beast set up his worst and final pretensions. But these would not do homage to the Beast, or his image, nor would they receive the mark. These compose the third class here spoken of. We can understand the special mention of these two sections of the saints who suffered after the rapture to heaven. For they did not live for the power and glory of the kingdom. But if they died for Christ, God takes care they shall not lose, but share the first resurrection. They thereby become saints of the high places.
The first were the saints who came out of heaven after Christ, already in the changed or glorified condition. Consequently it was seen that they sat upon the thrones at once; while the two latter classes, described in the rest of the verse, were still in the separate state — “and the souls of those that were beheaded,” etc. “Souls” alone often means persons, as is familiarly known. But here it is “the souls of,” etc. It is a different phrase, and of different sense. It means the souls of beheaded persons. He first saw their disembodied condition; then another similar class; and next states that “they lived.” It is a raising up of both classes from the dead to join others already raised. For there were thrones, and people sat upon them, changed before this into the image of Christ’s glory. Then were seen others in the condition of souls who bore testimony after the first, those beheaded for the witness of Jesus and the word of God; lastly, those who refused the Beast in every form, — a testimony more negative than the former, but not less real. The evidence of the third class might have been given a little more distinctly than in our version; not “and which had not,” but rather, “and those who did not do homage to the beast, nor his image, and received not his mark upon their forehead, and upon their hand.” As these were in the separate state, it is added, “and they lived.” Thus only were they enabled to reign with Christ.
What can be simpler or more beautiful than the way in which this verse sums up for the sufferers what the Revelation had promised? After “the things which are” the visions of this book open, not with the rapture of saints to heaven, but with the sight of saints already in heaven. They are often before the seer in his visions, but seen always in a complete condition There is no addition to their number. Accordingly the translation of the church with the Old Testament saints must have already taken place before Rev. 4 begins, all such being caught up at the self-same time to be with the Lord above. We have seen also that these follow the Lord out of heaven (Rev. 19:14), and are next seen enthroned (Rev. 20:4). When the Lord takes His own throne, they are given theirs by grace. Further, we find that the saints who had suffered for Christ, during the time that the glorified were in heaven, are now reunited to their bodies and “live,” the Lord waiting for the last martyr that He might not leave out one of those who had died for His name. All the sufferers, either in the early persecutions of Revelation 6, or in the later persecutions (Rev. 13, 15) up to Babylon’s extinction, were now raised from the dead. “They lived,” and were put thereby into a condition suitable for reigning with Christ, no less than the already changed Old Testament saints and the church itself. The dead saints were now all raised to reign over the earth.
Nor is this all here. Another sort of resurrection awaits all others, resurrection of judgment. Such is the meaning of the verse, “The rest of the dead lived not again till the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection,” which includes all that reign with Christ during the thousand years.
Let it be here carefully observed that the first resurrection does not mean all rising exactly at the same moment. Undoubtedly the change of all shore caught up takes place in the twinkling of an eye; but this in no way denies that other bodies are to be raised at a different time. For certain there are two acts of resurrection: one when the Old Testament saints and the church are caught up to heaven; the other when Satan is bound, after the Beast and False Prophet are thrown into the lake of fire, as well as Babylon judged. From the manner in which resurrection is referred to in scripture, does not God leave room for this? “I will raise him up at the last day.” “At the last day” does not mean an instant of time.
To see this plainly adds immense clearness in the understanding of the book. “The first resurrection” does not intimate that there is but one act of raising, but that all who share this resurrection, whenever raised, are raised before the millennium begins. When Christ reigns, all such have part in the first resurrection. First Christ Himself was raised at least 1,800 years before the church; then the church, with the Old Testament saints; then these Apocalyptic saints at the least some years after. This gives a full and just view of the various parties that have a share in this resurrection. “This is the first resurrection Blessed and holy [is] he that hath part in the first resurrection: over them the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” It is clearly a personal reward to those who had suffered. How mischievous the thought that the church is ever to reign without Christ, though natural to man’s heart! The Corinthian saints dropped into it (1 Cor. 4:8) and were rebuked for its unspirituality and worldliness. What more opposed to the portion of the apostles, as of Christ? We are called to suffer now, not to reign. “If we endure, we shall also reign together.” We rightly look to be glorified together with Him, but not apart from Him. To a loyal Christian heart, no reign of saints could satisfy or even be tolerated without Christ, the Firstborn among many brethren.
When the thousand years expire, Satan reappears on the scene to the sorrow and ruin of the Gentiles who were not born of God. But it is for the last time, not of this age only, but of the various dispensations of God. “And when the thousand years are completed, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations that [are] in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war.” This is clearly of moral importance. The glory of the kingdom does not preserve when men in their natural state are exposed to the adversary. Even in that day the distant nations, “the number of whom is as the sand of the sea,” fall a prey to Satan. If we had not this fact revealed, we should have lost a crowning proof of man’s evil and of Satan’s wiles and power.
“And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and encompassed the camp of the saints, and the beloved city.” The beloved city is Jerusalem; the camp of the saints is a larger circle and embraces all of Israel and those Gentiles who, being converted, refuse Satan’s deceit. They flocked to that centre. It is an evident contrast with the state supposed in the wheat-and-tare field of Christendom which is found at the end of this age. Wheat and tares grow together till the process of judgment separates. At the end of the millennium the righteous and the wicked form two distinct arrays, though even the surrounding camp of the God-fearing Gentiles forms now a wider circle, distinct from the beloved city Jerusalem on earth, where the Jews were. But the good and bad were not mixed up as now. The unrenewed of the nations compass them both with their countless hosts, as if to eat them up like grasshoppers. “And fire came down out of the heaven [from God], and devoured them. And the devil that deceiveth them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where [are] both the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night unto the ages of the ages.”
But another scene follows still more solemn, the most awe-inspiring of all for man to contemplate, yet full of blessing for such as are Christ’s to look onward to, putting down every enemy and trace of evil, and vindicating good where the creature altogether failed. Here is seen but one throne. It is the last judgment, the eternal judgment. Even when God was judging providentially, in the beginning of the Apocalyptic visions (Rev. 4), associated thrones were seen. When Christ came personally to judge and govern the quick (Rev. 20:4), thrones were seen; for the risen saints reign with Him But now there is but one throne: Christ judges the dead. Not a word implies His then coming, but the risen wicked stand before the throne.
“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled and place was not found for them.” This is of immense moment doctrinally, because it decisively proves that it is altogether unfounded to assume, as is popularly done, that the Lord only returns at this juncture. By the coming of the Lord all must mean His coining to the habitable earth. But manifestly, if the Lord does not come before this, there is no world to come to; for the earth and heavens were fled. The common notion therefore, that the coming of the Lord is at this point, is an evident fallacy upon the face of the scripture which describes it, not to speak of others that confirm it elsewhere. It is not a syllogism that is wanted or that can satisfy here: we only require, only believe, the word of God. A single verse dispels clouds of arguments.
Afterwards no doubt a new heaven and a new earth are seen; but who contends that this is the sphere to which the Lord comes? He will come as He went (Acts 1:11). “His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east.” To this earth He is coming, not to the new earth in the eternal state. To the same world in which He suffered He will, according to the scriptures, come back, and for seasons of refreshing from His presence. Then will be, not the day of the destruction of the universe, but times for restoring all things, whereof God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets since time began. These glorious times have never yet been accomplished, and therefore must be before eternity. They are reserved for Christ’s presence and reign, as He waits for the joint-heirs before He enters on it. But for the eternal judgment heaven and earth fled away; when it is over, we see the new and eternal universe. Hence He must have come back previously to both. With this agrees His coming out of heaven in judgment of the earth, described in Revelation 19. He came to the world, and avenged His people on the Beast and the False Prophet with the kings and their armies; after which the risen saints reign with Him over the earth a thousand years. This it is, not on but over the earth. He with the glorified saints will have their home on high; none the less shall they reign over this world for the allotted time. Compare John 17:22, 23.
Then, as seen, comes the final test of the nations of the earth after that kingdom has run its course, when the devil, let loose for a little, once more deceives flesh and blood after the analogy of all other dispensations. Even the age of visible glory cannot change the heart of man; though in the absence of the enemy and the controlling presence of the great King, they rendered feigned obedience for a long while. The kingdom can govern and bless but not convert man. Even the proclamation of the grace of God is powerless save it be brought home by the quickening energy of His own Spirit. In short no testimony can avail, no work, power, or glory, without the word of God applied by the Spirit of God. But in this is shown — what it is of importance to see — the true nature of the kingdom or millennial reign. “That day” does not mean a time when everybody will be converted, but when the Lord Jesus will govern righteously, when overt evil will at once be judged, and good be sustained wondrously for a thousand years. If any wrong should be done, it does not slip through. As far as the display of government goes, it is according to God morally and for His glory, though secret elements of evil may be there, never allowed to appear, but kept under if not expelled. But that the heart of man even so is not renewed becomes manifest, when Satan at the close deceives all that are not converted; and these, as we are told, are countless “as the sand of the sea.”
Do not wonder at the vast numbers, or at their defection. The thousand years of peace and plenty will have given occasion for an ever-growing population, spite of a world thinned by divine judgments which open that era. It is to be supposed that it must far exceed anything yet seen on the face of the earth. At the beginning and all through the Apocalyptic transition there will have been carnage, and worse and worse, among both the western powers and those of the east. In fact all the nations will be desolated by judgments of one kind or another. For all that, the world abiding for a thousand years (with every outward blessing and the most admirable government administered by the blessed Lord Himself) will issue in the teeming and prosperous and long-living races of mankind. Since sin entered, the state of nature will be unexampled for the fruits of the earth and the enjoyment of all that God has made here below. Consequently an increase in population follows such as never has been approached since the world was made. Yet it afterwards appears that Satan will not fail to turn the masses of the nations into one vast rebellion against the objects of God’s special favour on the earth, “the saints” who form then a vast “camp” round “the beloved city” of Israel. There will not be as now tares and wheat growing together; the righteous at once flock around the holy metropolis of the earth at that unwonted sight; and fire out of the heaven settles the insurrection. But now comes the judgment of the wicked for eternity which is in question.
“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before the throne, and books were opened, and another book was opened, which is of life. And the dead were judged out of the things written in the books according to their works.” Before “God” is a spurious reading.
After this is not the destruction of those rebels by divine judgment, but the dissolution of heaven and earth. Jesus sits upon the great white throne. It is the judgment of the dead as such, who now rise and give account of their deeds. All the dead are there who had not part in the first resurrection. The nature of the case exempts of course the saints of the millennium;20 and this very simply, because they are never said to die. There is no scriptural reason to infer that any saints die during the thousand years, but rather the contrary. Scripture is positive in Isaiah 65 that death during the millennium only comes as a specific judgment because of open rebellion. When a person dies, it will be a positive curse from God; if he die even a hundred years old, it will be like a babe dying now. Man converted will then not merely reach the natural term of a thousand years (as did neither Adam nor Methuselah), but pass that bound. If alive before the thousand years, he lives after the thousand years; in fact, he shall never taste death. From general principles we may be assured that the saints of the millennial earth will be changed when the heaven and the earth disappear. Assuredly they will be preserved through that crisis in some way suitable to divine wisdom. God has not told us how, nor is it ours to pry. He has reserved the matter, though not without enough to guide our thoughts. It is one of those cases which every now and then appear where God checks and reproves our curiosity, as He alone knows how to do perfectly. “Flesh and blood,” we know, “cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” According to the general scope of scripture, then, we may be quite sure that these saints, kept during this universal dissolution of the atmospheric heaven and the earth, will be translated to “new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness,” in a condition new and meet for the eternal state into which they are ushered. Let others speculate, if they will; he who essays to conceive the detail is striving to draw a bow beyond the power of man.
The dead were judged, but not out of the book of life which has nothing to do with judgment. “The dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books according to their works.” Why then is the book of life mentioned? Not because any of their names were written therein, but in proof that they were not. The book of life will confirm what is gathered from the books. If the books proclaim the evil works of the dead that stand before the throne, the book of life offers no defence on the score of God’s grace. Scripture records no name whatever as written there among those judged. There was the sad register of undeniable sins on the one side; there was no writing of the name on the other side. Thus, whether the books or the book be examined, all conspire to declare the justice, the solemn but most affecting righteousness, of God’s final irrevocable sentence. They were judged, each one, according to their works. “And if any one was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.” Thus the only use that seems made of the book is negative and exclusive. Not that any of those judged (and the scene described is solely a resurrection of judgment) are said to be written there: we are shown rather that they were not found in that book.
Neither the sea nor the unseen world could longer hide their prisoners. “And the sea gave up the dead that [were] in it, and death and hades gave up the dead that [were] in them: and they were judged, each one, according to their works.”
Again, Death and Hades are said to come to their end, personified as enemies. “And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Thus was concluded all dealing on the Lord’s part with both soul and body, and all that pertains to either. The race was now in the resurrection state either for good or for ill; and thus it must be for ever. Death and Hades, which had so long been executioners in a world where sin reigned, and still did their occasional office when righteousness reigned, themselves disappear where all traces of sin are consigned for ever. God is “all in all.”
12 Most copies, it would seem, read
τῆς γῆς, “of the earth” the Alex. and others give
αὐτῆς, “of her.” The Sinai MS. has both.
13 The description here is simply character, not dates. If a person drew from this, for instance, that the Beast was to carry the woman, Babylon, when it had as a fact all that is meant by the seven heads and the ten horns, it would be an error. The angel implies nothing of the sort. It is a question here of distinctive character, apart from that of historical time, for which we must consider other scriptures.
Even the Complutensian editors gave the right text here; and it would seem that Erasmus failed to use his MS. aright. For according to unquestionable testimony the Reuchlinian copy has
καὶ πάρεστι like some half-dozen cursives, which was probably a mistake for
καίπρε ἐστίν was unmitigated error
15 It now appears that the Cod. Reuchlin. Capnionis, which was used by Erasmus, and lately discovered after a long obscurity by Dr. Franz Delitzsch, reads
τὸ θ. as did the Complut. Polyglott, and all editions of the least critical value. Scholz’s note (“rec. cum cdd. pl.”) is a myth. Who can cite MSS. in its favour, though some versions represent it?
16 “Poison” has been suggested by pious and learned men. But it is better rendered homogeneously with what is said elsewhere. we cannot apply “poison” to God’s wrath, but we may with many scriptures employ “fury” to mark His extreme indignation, and Babylon’s excessive deception and unbridled iniquity.
17 It may interest some to understand how the Romanist endeavour to divert the prophecy from its evident application to this system wholly fails. They assume that, if Babylon means the corrupt church, the symbol must be a married woman false to her husband, not a harlot. But no: their assumption confounds, as they habitually do, the church with Israel, which was indeed married to Jehovah. But the church is, or ought to be, a chaste virgin; and the marriage is future and in heaven, as Rev. 19:7-9 proves. Hence the only correct figure for the corrupt and false church is the “harlot,” as in Rev. 17, not adulteress.
18 It is the aorist in Greek, which in such a case as this it is difficult correctly to represent in English; for neither “reigned” nor “hath reigned” clearly conveys that God just entered on His kingdom; they rather imply that it was past. It anticipates that He reigned as a fact.
19 It is the more strikingly characteristic, because of such language as Ps. 149:6-9, which speaks of all the saints contemplated on earth for the day of Jehovah.
20 None, however, can be exempt from being manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, or from giving an account of all done in the body. But no believer comes into judgment. (John 5:24 compared with Rom. 14: and 2 Cor. 5) It is due to the Lord that all should be there manifested; it would be a great loss to the saints if it were not so. But to those who have not Christ, and are therefore found “naked,” how awful, utter, and unending is their judgment when it comes!