Brief Thoughts On The Apocalypse

The book is prophetic: it does not deal with the church in respect of itself, as in relationship with God, save incidentally in the preface (chap, 1:5, 6), and conclusion. (Chap. 22:16, 17.) It is the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. The address, though of grace and peace, is governmental. Thus it is from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come (not from the Father as such), and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne; and from Jesus Christ, the Faithful Witness, the First-begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth, i.e., not mere Messianic glory, yet connected with earth, in life, resurrection, and rule. The mention of Him draws out, by the way, the church’s, or Christian’s, own consciousness and feeling as to Christ. This is followed by the testimony of what He is to the world, and to the Jews, at His coming in judgment. Then we have the personal seal of the eternal glory. And so the whole book, in its relationships and results. The word of God and the testimony of Jesus applies both to prophecy and to Christianity, though not properly to the church; for Scripture looks at testimony continuously, as in Hebrews 1, 2; or separately from what went before, as in the epistle to the Ephesians.

Next, we have the vision of Christ, revealed in the midst of the churches, governing them. There are two parts in the description—what is personal, and what is relative; the former, in verses 13-15; the latter, in verse 16. Personally, He is a Son of man, not now a servant at His work: His garment is the long flowing robe, and not tucked up. His girdle is divine righteousness as such. Verse 14 marks Him as Ancient of days. His eyes search, His eyelids try, the children of men in the power of judgment. His feet, as seen here, represent judgment, not abstractedly divine in the sanctuary, but applied down here to the ways and dealings of men—to sin, in government, and this with a peculiar character. Ezekiel 1:7 and Daniel 10:6 (different in the English version) are the same; but we have here “passed through the fire.” I apprehend it means here that the application of righteousness in judgment to man was according to the full absolute trial of the fire of God (i.e., judgment allowing no evil). Governmental judgment has not this character exactly. Brass is not used for immediate divine righteousness—i.e., intrinsic divine righteousness as such, remaining immutable in itself; to be met and satisfied, no doubt, by what is suited to it, but not exercised. This last is in power and ways. But in Christ, this last had all the perfectness which that fire, which consumes all dross, has or can have. In the relative characteristics, we have maintenance, by His power, of all the subordinate administrative power of the churches; judgment, according to and by the power of the word, of what had possessed that word, and the manifestation of supreme sovereign power, as regards the whole world.

Human nature fails before this, but while the First and the Last, God Himself, Jehovah, He was also the Living One— not the power of death—for His servants: He had gone through death and destroyed it, and was alive for evermore. Life was His, and not only so, but life after death and resurrection, after His going through that which man was subject to; and He has thus the keys of power over death and hades. Christ was to be revealed in this way, then the present existing things, and the things after them.

In Ephesus, we have the great principle of His government in, and survey of, the professing church. He has the seven stars and walks among the candlesticks. The principle of departure from first standing is taken as the general ground; the result of faithfulness is also individual—he eats of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of the God of Jesus (read “my God” in verse 7), while the general fact of judgment is threatened—the candlestick removed. It is in every respect the great general principles of departure and judgment, though there was still much good.

The Smyrna state is clear. Christ, who was before all, and will be after all, and in this present world, has overcome death, sustains faith in the midst of needed persecution, and promises the crown of life. It is the title by which He met the withering of fleshly life in the apostle before His glory. Note, the profession of hereditary religion accompanies persecution— the trial was external, and the blessing here is general; they were to hold good their faith among the polluted.

Next, in Pergamos, we have the searching judgment by the word, where corruption was allowed. So the blessing is distinctive also. Next we have—not trial by God’s word, revealed truth, but—the Lord’s searching of all that is within the heart: His eyes as a flaming fire; and the governmental judgment. And this closes the public history of the church in general. And the morning star, and the coming, and Christ’s kingdom, are brought in as the object of hope. Nor is there here invitation to repent. In the first there was. In the persecuted church there is encouragement. In the third there was. In this fourth the bad had space to repent, and did not. “Behold, I will cast,” and “I will kill,” is absolute.

The church of Sardis clearly begins afresh. Christ has the seven stars. They are His; but He does not say He holds them in His right hand. And He has the seven Spirits—a point not noticed yet, but which marks that whatever the state of the church, He has the full supply of gift—the Spirit, in all competency to act and glorify God. But I think it looks out beyond the former church. It is irregular, but a competency above order, and a competency proper to Him personally. Hence it will be found, as each characteristic of Christ in the last three churches, to reach over into the coming scene, i.e., the characteristic itself. They are none of them mentioned in the description of the Son of man. They are new objects and grounds of faith; not the regularised characteristics for ecclesiastical dealing, or of that revealed use.

Hence, if not faithful, Sardis is not judged as the church, like Thyatira, but treated as the world. The overcomers have the general result of righteousness, not being out of the book of life, and being confessed individually before the Father, as they had confessed Christ before the world. In Philadelphia, all ecclesiastical pretension is against them. But Christ’s personal sovereign title to shut and open is for them. They have to keep the word of His patience. All this is unecclesiastical. Christ waits for His enemies to be made His footstool. In this respect He continues even His life on earth. So do the saints. They walk in the midst of a corrupt closing dispensation, keeping Christ’s word. Hence the word “my.” Laodicea goes further. For Christ takes up the witness in the new creation, instead of the church, which He rejects. Divine righteousness must be had—saints’ righteousnesses, according to God’s purity, and true discernment from God, known only through Christ. He has not ceased to love the church, and looks for zeal and repentance. The kingdom is all that is here promised. The different place of the warning in the last three has been noticed.

As to the sequel, I do not see how it can be questioned that we enter on a different sphere of prophecy in chapter 4. I do not mean merely that it is the third division, as often remarked; but that chapters 2 and 3 were the judgment of the church on earth, and this is not. The world is dealt with from the throne, not on earth either, but in heaven. When this is the case, the saints are seen there. It is not merely that the blessing is anticipated before the judgments come, through which the blessed have to pass; but the body of saints is seen enthroned, encircling the great throne of God before any history of judgment begins at all. And the sources of all are revealed in this place. They are associated with the throne in its then place and character. It is not Christ’s throne on which they sit. They are enthroned and crowned priests and kings before the government revealed in the book begins. And it is not the revelation of any place acquired or reached through them, as may be said in chapters 7 and 15. Before the Lamb has taken the book to bring about circumstances to go through, they are associated with the throne. The throne itself is very clearly the throne of divine government and providence; and that set in majesty of judgment, but connected with the first creation. The rainbow is round it. It is not a throne approached with blood—the golden throne. And the living creatures, though in the midst of the throne, can be apart from it. But it is a heavenly throne. Jehovah-Elohim-Shaddai is celebrated.

The elders worship Him as Creator and Sovereign. It is His throne of government (in the first creation), and they can sit on thrones, but in heaven. They are in rest as to judgment, and active in worship. Though the living creatures were in and around the throne, next it thus, the elders as to place are first mentioned as morally associated with the throne. On their own thrones they were part of the scene. The creatures are only part of the character of the throne. Reasons for praise are here with the elders only. The creatures’ part is the unceasing celebration of what He is.

Chapter 5. We have now competent power to act on the unfolding of divine purpose. In the centre of all God’s ways of power and providence was the Lamb as slain. He could open the purpose of God’s right hand of power. Other saints are here with prayers yet to go up. The creatures and elders fall down before the Lamb. I should leave out “us” in verse 9, and naturally read “them” instead of “us” in verse 10, as Tischendorf, etc., unless perhaps “they reign.” Here, if connected with “living creatures,” these give reasons for worship also, the angels do not. Then note the living creatures put their amen to this ascription of power and glory. The twenty-four elders worship; I doubt a little the worshipping, etc. (v. 8), of the living creatures; but in chapter 19:4 they do. In chapter 5:14 “him that liveth,” etc., is to be left out. The living creatures, join with Amen. The elders worship. All may own the Lamb by falling down. It is all most due and right, but the intelligent song is morally, I think, with the elders: they sing (not “they sung”). It is in the main (besides the Lamb’s glory, having perfect power and the eyes of the Lord which run through the earth) the interest of the heavenly saints in, and their connection with, the earthly ones, and the same place as to the kingdom. In what follows, to the end of chapter 11, we get the general history, and in the earlier part of it, in parenthesis, the special final history of the beast, so as to get its place in the series. Remark, we have not yet the offspring of David. Only the Lamb is Lion of the tribe of Judah; but it is redemption out of all nations which gives a title to take the book and open the seals.

But I suspect there is something more as to creatures and elders. It is not till the Lamb has taken the book that the creatures get their place with the elders. Now it has been long remarked that the creatures are the symbols of providential power (attributes in exercise), and that the instruments may be angels as in this world and saints in the world to come. Now it will be remarked that, before the Lamb appears on the scene and takes the book, there are no angels who praise, and the creatures, while celebrating the character of God—expressing it, are not associated with intelligent praise and worship. Now this is always their proper office and character; but when the saints take this office, they are also the intelligent worshippers, though remaining another aspect of them. Hence, before the Lamb is in the scene and has taken the book, they are completely distinct, and no angels are spoken of; when He has, they are connected, and the angels are distinct. Still the creatures say Amen to creature-praise, and the elders worship. In point of fact, after Christ has risen up and taken the church up, the angels expel the dragon from heaven; but in power connected with the Lamb, here held up to view, the saints must be associated. When in chapter 19 the Lord is coming out, the elders have the first place, for that is the first heavenly part and place, the governmental attributes relating to the inheritance and the earth. So they have in chapter 7:11.

A question arises out of the change of reading in chapter 5:9, 10, whether the redeemed are a distinct set, or the redeemed in general. The saints, whose prayers are offered, are earthly—that is clear. But I have been rather disposed to think verses 9 and 10 are general. The Lamb has wrought this work. But “to our God” is a difficulty in this view, and the prayers of others must be considered.

Then, after the general history of public judgments, after conquest, etc., we have the souls under the altar—martyrs in general, I conceive, though this is a very important point as to the structure of the book. They are owned (for there is a break in God’s ways here), but must wait for judgment; but all is broken up in order of existing powers, so that a way is made to the accomplishing prayers.

But special things, a scene of special dealings and judgment, were first to come in, yet part of the general history (i.e., not the beasts of chapter 13). But before this new scene is opened, the perfect remnant of Israel is sealed. The angel came from—was connected with—the dawn of the new day upon the earth. I cannot think that “before the throne and before the Lamb “is physical locality, but moral. The angels do not stand round the/white-robed multitude. I apprehend they are the delivered saints on earth, who are perfectly secured and sheltered for ever—God dwells among them j His tabernacle is over them. I do not say they are seen on earth, for I do not think so, any more than the woman in chapter 12:1; yet her history is on earth, but in both cases in the purpose and mind of God. God views them thus, and their place is moral. They are never “around the throne,”58 which is remarkable; nor are they seated as the elders; nor do they give motives for praise as they do. Their salvation is of and from the throne before which they stand. They have known God and the Lamb only there. There is, however, I apprehend, victory. They have come out of the great tribulation. They are not those born in the peace of the millennium. So that they have a place before the throne, as then set, and serve him inside, and with a knowledge not possessed by merely millennial blessing. There is no temple in the heavenly Jerusalem. It is not the Son of David, or of man, who feeds them, but the Lamb on the throne; and they are before God on the throne. They have an inner place and better knowledge than the millennium. The elders can explain for them—are interested, so to speak, in them—though they are not in their place. There is a connection with Christ, to the elders’ minds, which themselves do not fully understand—something as if they said “When saw we thee?” Compare chapter 14 for a somewhat analogous class, though there we are not in the general history. They have heavenly connection, though they are not in heaven.

Chapter 8. I suppose to be general judgments on the Roman Empire. In chapter 9 we begin more special dealings of God: the first woe-trumpet on the rebellious part of Israel, then an inroad of eastern cavalry-characterised nations, but in the Roman Empire. (See, for the Roman Empire being characterised by a third part, chapter 12:3, 4.) But men do not repent. Then before the third woe a more special and peculiar subject is parenthetically introduced. From chapter 8, the ministrations, as noticed long ago, are angelic in character; previously, from chapter 5, the actings of the Lamb: I suppose the latter connected with the throne in heaven, the former with administration towards the earth, before the Lamb takes His title as King of kings and Lord of lords. As such we again find the Lamb. This, if just, is a help to the interpretation and moral placing of these two parts. Hence we have a step lower down, and John takes the book from the angel (Christ), not the Lamb from Him that sits on the throne. This is no sealed book of counsels and universal ways towards Gentiles, but the open dealings of God with Israel and the earth again, not providential, but in already revealed circumstances, God’s known ways on earth. We are here, then (chap. 11), on direct Jewish ground; the inner remnant are owned, the general outer body given up to be profaned by Gentiles. It is not, I judge, locally, though speaking of Jews and Jerusalem, but morally, that the distinction is made. It is trodden under foot forty-two months.

Some have put the twelve hundred and sixty days of verse 3 after this. Now, though I admit the possibility of recurring to a previous dealing of God, it seems to me forced to attempt it here with the meaning of the Greek translated “And I will give,” Rev. 11:3. This is important in another point of view; because, in this case, there is only one half-week here, as in Matthew 24; for the city’s being given up to be trodden down forty-two months, and twelve hundred and sixty days following after in which it still is, does not well hang together. It is not sufficient, I think, to say, The first period was characterised by this, without testimony, and the last half-week by testimony, not by this, because forty-two months is an exclusive measure of time. If so, as in Matthew 24, we are in general time up to the last half-week—no commencement here, but the conclusion marked. Then I hardly think, if the forty-two months came after the twelve hundred and sixty days, the beginning of treading down by the Gentiles could be celebrated as the coming of the worldly kingdom of Christ. The witness, however, goes farther than the Jews; it maintains (as must be in them) the claims of God over the earth—His ruling title there.

We have worshippers in an earthly way, and witnesses or prophets. They are like Moses and Elias in testimony—in the midst of a captive people and an apostate people. They act in power like them—shutting heaven, as Elias, and turning waters into blood, as Moses—over heaven, the waters, and the earth, but in view of the earth. But they are only witnesses (testifying what is fulfilled in Zechariah). The power of evil, the beast from the abyss, overcomes and kills them (properly it is the great street of the city). But they go to heaven and judgment strikes the city; names of men fall; the remnant own the God of heaven, not of the earth—the new testimony.

Note, there is the completing the testimony; till then they are safe. They of the nations kept their bodies—ready to go up. This closes the second woe. The time is thus placed; and this seems to me to conclude a second half-week, because the forty-two months must be within the second woe; and if the third woe gives the last half-week, we have three half-weeks—two closed by the end of the second woe, and one forming the third. It can hardly be said that verse 2 is not within the closing of the second woe.

Note here, “the kingdom of our Lord.” It explains the reign for ever. It is the establishment of God’s government in contrast with man’s misrule. So in Revelation 11:16, we have “before” (enopion) the throne. This partly shews its moral force, for they were “round” the throne; chap. 4:4. We have in chapter 11 the elders in their own distinctive place again as intelligent worshippers, not the living creatures.

See chap. 19:4. They only give an amen to the voices in heaven. Both are there; only elders, as we have remarked, first. They are noted here, too, as sitting before God on their thrones. But the setting up the governmental power of God draws them to prostrate worship, as the celebration of creative glory had done in chapter 4. The whole scene is judging the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom, and destroying them that corrupt and destroy the earth. It is thus the whole scene of judgment of the kingdom—not the destruction of the elements, but judgment of all living corrupters of every sort.

We now come to the direct and complete development of the parenthetical matter of chapters 10 and 11. We get the counsels and thoughts of God, not the history of His ways and man’s conduct, but His view of what He was bringing about, and the formal design of Satan to oppose it. This is connected with His covenant with Israel. The ark of His covenant was seen in His temple, which was opened in heaven. He was going to act openly on the earth in connection with the covenant with Israel, and first we have the heavenly aspect of it all before the history. That is to say, Jerusalem or Israel viewed according to God’s sure counsel, clothed with supreme authority, all legal ordinances under her feet, crowned with perfect administrative subordinate authority. Of her the Man-child that was to govern all was to be born (i.e., Christ and the church in Him). Opposed to this is Satan’s power in the Empire of Rome. This empire is looked at, however, not historically, but as the power of Satan. But the Child was not yet set up in power, but caught up to God’s throne—hidden there. The woman’s (Israel’s) place is in the wilderness, driven out in desolation, but kept of God for twelve hundred and sixty days.

Next, we begin our history from heaven downwards. The dragon is cast out thence, but into this earth—he becomes a mere earthly power. The heavens are set free, the accuser gone, and those who suffered in connection with his and their place are there freed from all his efforts. He then begins to attack the woman (now seen historically on earth). She flees from him three and a half years into the desert, is saved from his pursuit, and he turns to persecute the godly of her seed. Here I certainly think we have still only one half-week. The woe on the earth, on the heavens being set free, is not, I judge, the coming of the worldly kingdom. Divine power was set up in heaven, to the exclusion of the accuser, and in favour of the heavenly people. But the earthly kingdom of the dragon came; not the judgment and worldly kingdom of Christ.

In chapter 13 we get the earthly agent of Satan, the Roman Empire; but not as a direct subject in its heathen character, but in its blasphemous one; still it is viewed as being the last of the four empires that came out of the sea, but with ten horns and seven heads, and embracing characteristically the other three. The slain head had been slain, and continued “as if slain,” but had been healed. This is part of his character, shewing previous existence and history of a beast who now rises, to whom the dragon gives his authority. But the world would be infidel in it, and take up, independent of Christianity, the admiration of that power which would have destroyed Christ in its imperial character. Blasphemy is the new character of the beast, and he continues in this character forty-two months— half a week, not a whole one. He blasphemes God, and in the shape of His name, dwelling-place, and the dwellers in heaven. This is characteristic. The church, as a heavenly thing, could not be endured. But it intimates that in the close, historically, the church is already caught up. He can only blaspheme them. But he makes war with the saints on earth (i.e., who are not dwellers in heaven). The dwellers on earth worship him, save the elect remnant. I apprehend this latter is more universal in character; while the saints he overcomes are active in witness, more or less, and answer to the saints of the high places (Dan. 7) whom he wears out. Though more generally expressed here, they are the understanding ones of Daniel 11; not the church, but not merely faithful, but aware of God’s title and ways, as the Most High, and their testimony obnoxious to the beast. Hence they are slain and go up—though they do not dwell there. The changing times and laws is the Jewish part, and not brought in here; but the period is the same. And the two former parts of Daniel 7:25 are found here (read “written from the foundation of the world”). As yet, God not being come in in judgment, submission, not actual resistance, is the patient path of faith. He will bring judgment on the persecutor. The rest of the chapter and chapter 14 do not offer, I think, much difficulty. We have active satanic agency, bearing the form of Messiah’s power, and ministering to the first beast’s throne and blasphemous claims.

Chapter 14 is the work of God in this time—the perfect remnant of Jewish sufferers preserved under the beast’s reign; the gospel of the kingdom and coming judgment before that judgment is executed; the fall of Babylon; the warning as to the beast, and the lot of those who worshipped him; the judgment of the earth, sparing many, and of the vine—the religious corporate character of evil connected with the apostasy of Israel and Antichrist, sparing none. It is the utter destruction of apostate religiousness in the earth—the vine of the earth. The judgment of the beast as such is not here.

I apprehend the beginning of chapter 15 is anticipative, as the judgments are made manifest. But they are what follows (v. 5), it is the naos, holy place. “Tabernacle of testimony” is the word used by the LXX for the tabernacle of the congregation. So Stephen in Acts. What follows is the inauguration of it (like Exodus 40:34, and 1 Kings, or 2 Chronicles). But here it is the smoke of glory and power, wrath being to be executed as from it. Still God takes His place—though not Himself—by His presence. This and chapter 16 come in before chapter 14:8. Chapters 12 to 14 have no date till Satan is cast down, and the last half-week. That casting down changes the whole character of the working of evil. Note, these last chapters are testimony or conflict, and the ways of God when He does not execute judgment, though ending in the Son of man’s doing so. Evil has the upper hand as far as man can see. Deliverances, then, are by special or providential interventions. The ark of His covenant was then securing through the power of evil; but not judging. Chapters 15 and 16 are the judgment and wrath of God—not yet the Lamb. And they act (not on the power of Satan as an adversary, but) on men and the world and what is worldly, as such, according to responsibility to God. You get God’s doings in chapter 14 in the period; and the closing judgment by Him to whom definite judgment is committed. God’s ways in His government of the world are only noticed in recital (v. 8).

In chapters 12 to 14 the people are secured; and the world, till the Son of man comes, has its way. The ark of the covenant is seen, ordered and sure, but not made to grow. The men of Belial are taken at the end. In chapters 15 and 16 there is no ark of the covenant, but the house filled with smoke, so that none can enter; but it is glory and power active in wrath. In both we have to do with relationship with Israel, and the world; only as yet from heaven, not from Jerusalem on earth. In the first, directly with the Jews—their whole state is unfolded; in the last, the judgment on the proud of the earth, who leave no place for them, have displaced them, and in wickedness taken their place. The earth and everything in it is providentially judged.

I have nothing particularly new to remark on chapter 18, only the time is drawing on close, “has drawn near,” 1 Pet. 4:7. In chapter 18 I apprehend the fall is before the violent throwing down, but immediately preparatory to it, a total degradation of its state—a final call to God’s people to come out of her, to avoid her sins and imminent plagues. I apprehend there will be some strange union under secular influence connected with the false Messiah (see Revelation 13 and 2 Thessalonians 2 for extent and association too) between idolatrous Romanism and idolatrous Judaism. The Jews only, I apprehend, are His people here. The ark of the covenant has appeared, but it would have a moral application whenever Babylon was spiritually discerned, as even now are there many Antichrists. She was now in her last stage; her sins had reached unto heaven, and God had remembered her iniquities. So in Jeremiah 51:9, where also her fall precedes her being taken. The last verse shews the religious character, answering to Jerusalem in the Lord’s time. She has taken in a worse way Jerusalem’s place.

In chapter 19 it is, first, heavenly (not church) worship; i.e., not of intelligence of divine ways, but celebration when divine judgments are made manifest. It follows chapter 15. Hence it is entirely God’s judgments. The Lamb is not yet spoken of. The twenty-four elders and four living creatures only add their amen, worship, and hallelujah. Here it is a universal summons to praise of every one that fears God, for He reigns as Jehovah-Elohim-Shaddai. This must be connected with chapter 11:17, and helps to a date, and Psalms 95-98. This introduces the marriage of the Lamb (His wife being already made ready). This closes thus far the divine communications. It is on the assertion of the truth of them here, and chapter 22:6, on the reigning of the saints, that John was going to worship. Read, “The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus”; i.e., this book was the same service and had the same object as John’s own, who was in Patmos for it. These were all in heaven.

Now heaven is opened, not on Jesus—not to the spiritual man—but for Jesus, who, with the name taken to Laodicea only there in witness), comes to judge and make war. He was characterised by the garment dipped in blood. He is the Word of God. Verse 15 is not solely or properly applicable to the destruction of the beast and false prophet (though they may come under it as first opposing the other). It is the place Christ is taking in the world to introduce His kingdom. The beast and the false prophet and their armies gather themselves together to oppose this. They are therefore first met, themselves cast into the lake of fire, and their armies become the mystical supper of the great God for the fowls of the air, slain by the judicial authority of Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords. The dragon was then laid hold on and bound for a thousand years in the abyss—then to be loosed for a little season.

I have nothing new to add here, save that, if the thought of there being only one half-week be just, the slain for the testimony of Jesus are a general class, and those who do not worship the beast belong to the half-week. Indeed this makes it simpler.

In chapter 21:1-8 there is, remark, no dispensational name. In the description of the city, which follows, we have the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. It is a dispensational state.

58 See Notes, Rev. 4:3, in New Translation, New Testament, by J. N. Darby.