Chapter XI, The End Of The Parenthesis

We come now to consider the book of the Revelation. Within our present limits we can do this only in outline. I have taken it up more fully elsewhere.2 My one thought now is to show how the bulk of the visions of the Apocalypse fit in after the Great Parenthesis has terminated.

The Lord Himself has indicated the divisions of the book of the Revelation in chapter 1, verse 19. We are told that He said to the Apostle John: “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.” A somewhat more literal rendering of the last two parts of this verse would be: “The things which are now going on, and the things which shall be after these things.”

At the time that the Lord uttered these words, John had only seen the vision of chapter 1, the Son of Man in the midst of the candlesticks. Therefore, we are justified in saying that the first division of this Book would be chapter 1, verses 1 to 18. The things which are now going on would embrace the next two chapters where, under the similitude of seven letters addressed to seven actual Christian churches or assemblies existing in the last decade of the first century of the Christian Era in the reign of the Emperor Domitian, under whose tyrannical sway John was banished to the Isle of Patmos, we have an outline picture of the moral and spiritual conditions which the Lord saw would prevail through seven periods of the Church’s history from apostolic days to the end of its testimony on earth. These churches were all located in the Roman proconsular province of Asia, where John himself, according to the best records that we have, spent something like the last thirty years of his life. For a very definite reason the Lord selected the particular seven that we have here. There were other cities in this province in which churches were located, but they are not referred to here. Hierapolis was one of them; Colossae was another. The seven here selected will be seen, by consulting a map, to form a kind of a rough circle, so that if one took the highway from Ephesus, he would go on to Smyrna, then Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, and from there back to Ephesus.

We are told in the twentieth verse of chapter 1, which introduces this division: “The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” The Lord, then, is seen in the midst of these churches which are in the place of witness-bearing here on the earth. If we are only to think of the state and condition of the churches in the day when the Apocalypse was written, there is no particular mystery involved, but the mystery is now readily unfolded, for as we stand almost in the middle of the twentieth century, we can look back over all the years that have gone and see how remarkably these letters fit into seven great periods of Church history.

Observe, we do not have here specific historical facts as to individuals predicted. I mention this because some have objected to what has already been said because of the fact that the great outstanding characters of Church history seem to be utterly ignored. “How,” one commentator asks, “could the letter to Sardis, for instance, speak of the great State churches of Protestantism when there is no mention of Luther, Calvin, or any of the other outstanding heroes of the Reformation?” The answer, of course, is that we are not dealing here with events or persons so much as with principles. In the letter to Sardis we see the moral and spiritual condition of Protestantism, and that is what the Spirit of God sought to make known. The most convincing proof that this suggested interpretation is the correct one is this: If we were to change the order of these letters in any degree, we would have confusion, but taken as they are, everything is in perfect accord with Church history. We cannot, for instance, substitute Sardis for Smyrna, Laodicea for Thyatira, Pergamos for Ephesus, or make any other change without spoiling God’s wonderful portrayal of the prophetic story of the Church.

According to this view, then, we are now living in the Laodicean period of Church history. Ephesus sets forth the early days when living apostles still ministered to the Church on earth. Smyrna pictures the moral and spiritual conditions prevailing in the days of the ten great outstanding Roman persecutions. Pergamos tells of the union of Church and State in the days of Con- to heed His voice. They agree perfectly with the seal judgments.

But in chapter 7 we have a parenthesis between the sixth and the seventh seals, and here we find 144,000 Israelites sealed before the Great Tribulation actually begins. The angel is instructed to “hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads” (verse 3). In the latter part of the chapter we have a vision of a great multitude of Gentiles who will be saved in that day. They are pictured as they will appear when they have come through that awful time of trial, even as we read in verse 14: “These are they which came out of great tribulation [or more literally, the tribulation, the great one], and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The Lord shows John these two groups that he may know that all the terrors of the Great Tribulation with the outpouring of the wrath of God in the earth will not hinder the Spirit of God from working from heaven upon the hearts of men and women who have not heard and rejected the Gospel in this parenthetic age but who will be still living on the earth in that day.

When the seventh seal is broken, seven angels are seen standing before God, to whom are given seven trumpets of judgment. The sounding of the first trumpet introduces the Great Tribulation; the sounding of the seventh trumpet brings it to an end and ushers in the glorious kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw in the ninth chapter of Daniel that when the seventy weeks were finished, the vision of prophecy would be sealed up, and all would be complete. And in Revelation 10, verses 5 to 7, we read:

“And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer: but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.”

The expression, “There should be time no longer,” does not actually mean that eternity was about to begin, but “time” is used here in the sense of delay, as if one has an appointment at a certain hour and waits expectantly for another who has agreed to meet him, and finally, disappointed, says, “There is no more time,” which simply means that he cannot longer delay. Note, then, that when the seventh trumpet sounds, the mystery of God’s long toleration of evil will be ended. Everything will come out in the clear, and God’s ways with men will be fully justified.

In chapter 11 we have further details as to this:

“And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, saying, We give thee thanks, 0 Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:15-18). It is clear from this passage that the seventh trumpet ends the Great Tribulation. It is not, as some have supposed, the same as “the trump of God” in First Thessalonians 4, otherwise called “the last trump” in First Corinthians 15. In those passages the trump of God sounds for the Rapture of the Church. Here the seventh angel sounds his trumpet at the end of the tribulation period to introduce the reign of Christ. It will be then that all heaven will rejoice because the world-kingdom of our God and His Christ will have come.

A second section of this third great division begins in verse 19 of chapter 11, and goes on to the end of chapter 19, but with this we need not now be concerned. Those who want to make a fuller study of it may do so at their leisure, and there are many helpful books that would assist the reverent student.

Chapter 20 gives us details as to the Millennial Kingdom, and we are carried on in the next two chapters to the eternal kingdom. The book closes with an appendix from chapter 22, verse 8, to the end.

There is one point that it may be well to dwell upon inasmuch as many have been perplexed by it. Ordinarily we speak of the Rapture as involving the first resurrection, but it is well to remember that the resurrection of our Lord was part of that first resurrection and it also includes the resurrection of saints who will be put to death under the Beast and the Antichrist in the awful days of the Great Tribulation. In chapter 20, after the binding of Satan preliminary to the setting up of the kingdom, we read, in verses 4 to 6:

“And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”

The question has often been asked, “If the first resurrection takes place at the close of the Great Tribulation, how can it be said that the saints of this and past dispensations will be raised and living believers changed and all caught up to heaven before the tribulation begins?” In order to understand this clearly, let us examine the passage carefully.

John says, “I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them.” This has been translated, “I saw thrones, and sitters upon them to whom judgment was given.” Now this is a distinct group, and refers clearly to those symbolized by the twenty-four elders who have already been before us in these marvelous visions of God. These are the saints of the Church Age and of past dispensations. Then John indicates another class. He says: “And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” The resurrection of this group completes the first resurrection. None others of the dead will live again until the Millennium is past. Speaking of both these groups, the Spirit of God says, “This is the first resurrection,” and a blessing is declared as the portion of all who participate in it and who will be priests of God and of Christ and reign with him a thousand years.

With this Millennial Kingdom, human history on this earth will be concluded. When the wicked are raised at the end of the Kingdom Age and stand before the Great White Throne for judgment, the present created heavens and earth will be destroyed by fire from heaven and will be succeeded by that

      “One far off divine event,
      Toward which the whole creation moves,”

when there shall be a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness, where God will be all in all. This is the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. It consists of two aspects—the heavenly and the earthly—but the new heavens and the new earth will be in such intimate relationship with the New Jerusalem descending from God out of heaven, linking both together, that it can be said when that eternal day begins, “God Himself shall be with them, they shall be His people, and He will be their God.” Nothing will be permitted to disturb the happy relationship existing between God and His saints. The whole problem of good and evil will have been “threshed out,” if I may use such a term, during the ages of time and those who are saved will be the exhibit of the grace of God through all the ages to come. Happy, surely, are those who shall have their portion with the redeemed in that glorious consummation!

2 Lectures on the Book of Revelation by the same author can be obtained from the publishers.