AN EXPOSITION OF REVELATION IV. - XXII.
PART I: INTRODUCTORY
Our title to the following pages indicates our adherence in some sense to the interpretation of the book of Revelation which makes the body of it - the nineteen chapters upon which we are entering - apply to what is still for us future. Those who so apply it, what ever differences in detail there may be among them, are on this account called "futurists", in contrast with the large school of "Presentists" or "Historicalists," who find in it a progressive history of the Church from the beginning, and interpret it naturally by that history. They are usually and strongly opposed to one another, as might be expected, although there is no necessary opposition in the views themselves. Both may be held, and have been held together, by some who hold that there is an incipient, real, though incomplete fulfillment of divine prophecy, as well as a final exhaustive one; the first being often an assurance and help to the meaning of the latter. And this I accept for myself as at least generally true, and true in the case before us, and that (to use the words of another) "they are both alike practically wrong who have slightingly rejected the one or the other [application], and thus respectively deprived the Church of each."
But while I thus would keep in mind and seek to profit by this double interpretation, the latter is what I desire, as God may enable me, to develop and insist upon, and this for more reasons than one, but especially just because it is that which is alone complete and final, and still lying in the future for us; whereas the historical interpretation occupies us largely with the past, - a past. still fruitful for us assuredly, but less full of personal appeal. This will indeed be questioned, and it is not yet the time to answer the question.
Clearly the first point now is to prove, if it can be proved, the futurity of the fulfillment of the prophecies which we are to examine, - that such fulfillment is required by the inspired language of the book itself, and by a comparison with other Scripture. This ascertained, we can look better at objections which have been made to it, and realize also the profit of what is to engage us.
The first principle to be got hold of is that given us by the apostle Peter, that "no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Pet. i. 20). It is prophecy that is in question here, not all Scripture, as the Romanists would apply it. But also "private interpretation" is literally "its own interpretation." No single prophecy must be read alone, - as if it stood apart from the rest; but in connection with the whole plan of it in the Word. "For prophecy came not in old time by the will of man," - is not therefore the expression of the many minds of men; "but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost : " - there is One perfect mind throughout it.
Now the violation of this will be found to be largely the cause of the failure of expositors. They neglect a rule which the apostle emphasizes as of first importance - "knowing this first." It is comparatively easy to find some plausible application of a single passage; it is quite another thing to make this fit with a general prophetic testimony. Comparison of passage with passage on this subject is what we are invited and compelled to therefore, if we would have truth instead of theory, realized certainty rather than conjecture. What we hold must be tested and retested by the application of similar scripture, so that at least "in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word" may "be established."
Moreover, it will be plainly of importance to find some comprehensive prophecy connecting itself with some fixed point, or points, on Scripture, with which others may be then securely connected. Such prophecies we may find again and again in the book of Daniel, a book in the closest relation also to the book of Revelation, as all expositors of whatever school are agreed absolutely.
In the seventh chapter the prophet has a vision of these same four empires, now seen very differently as four wild beasts, while the kingdom of God is introduced by the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of heaven. And here it is, if possible, still more plain that this kingdom only commences with the destruction of the former ones. There is no possibility of any side by side development. Of the "little horn" of the last beast it is said: "And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws, and they shall be given unto his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time; but the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it to the end. And the kingdom and dominion and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions should serve and obey Him."
Thus it is evident that the kingdom of God here is that which will be set up only when the Lord returns in the clouds of heaven; that till then the kingdoms of the Gentiles continue, and then they are once for all broken and set aside. In connection with the last beast, moreover, we have just before the end the rise of a power which shows itself a blasphemous and persecuting one, and which by this brings judgment down upon itself and the beast, or empire, with which it is connected. This horn lasts, moreover, (in this character) just three and a half prophetic times, and then the judgment sits, and his dominion is taken away.
Carrying, then, these things with us, let us now go on to the ninth chapter, a prophecy which, for intelligence in the general plan of divine wisdom, is central in importance, and, interpreting as little as we can help, let us put this in connection with what we have already seen.
It is the well-known prophecy of the seventy weeks. In it we have an answer to Daniel’s confession of his sin, and the sin of his people Israel, and his supplication for the holy mountain of his God; and he is told - "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy."
The meaning should be plain, that at the end of seventy determined weeks, Jerusalem’s trausgression would be finished, and her sins would be at an end, her iniquity being purged, and everlasting righteousness brought in for her; and her holy place, now desecrated, be once more anointed. At the same time vision and prophecy would be sealed up by a fulfillment in which it would reach its end and disappear. This last statement alone is enough to show that we have to do with what is future still.
The angel goes on to give Daniel more in detail the events of these seventy weeks.
Four hundred and eighty-three years, then, from the commencement of this period Messiah comes, and but seven years remain in which the full blessing should come in. It is this which has doubtless stumbled many as to the fulfillment to Israel and Jerusalem which the first words of the angel yet so clearly promise. Startling it is to have to recognize a break of over eighteen centuries in a period of time which seems so strictly defined. The next verse, however, prepares us for this, and accounts for it. Messiah comes to His own, and His own receive Him not. Thus the blessing is delayed, although, of course, the purposes of God are unrepenting.
"And after the threescore and two weeks " - as the Hebrew reads, - " shall Messiah be cut off, and shall have nothing:" so rightly the margin and the R. V. give. Instead of reception by a willing people, He finds rejection and a cross, does not therefore yet receive the promises. The city is not restored, but desolated: "And the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary." All agree here that there is the destruction of the city by the Romans; most, therefore, assume that Titus is the "prince that shall come," but against this there are many reasons. For why in this case should the people be mentioned at all? Would it not be enough to say that the prince shall destroy - it being a matter of course that it would be through his people? Is it not plain that while the people and the prince are both emphasized for us, it is the people alone that are said to do this, only they are the people of the prince that shall come?
What importance attaches to Titus that he should be given this prominence, and in so concise a prophecy, in which every word seems measured out with greatest economy? Certainly no where else does he appear at all. Why, too, the "prince that shall come" against the city? but this would be strange tautology for the word of God! Of course if he were a leader of the host he would come against the city. But the expression is the very one which would be used to point out some great person predicted to arise, of whom Daniel had heard before. But there is another mark attached to this person: "And his end shall be in the flood." Here our common version has indeed "the end thereof." But the end of what then? Not of the destruction of the city? Not of the city, for this is feminine in Hebrew, and would not agree with the pronoun. Not of the sanctuary, which could not be detached from the city in this way. Moreover, the article with flood - "the flood," as it should be - speaks again of some definite and known catastrophe. The whole passage is to be regarded as sorne relative clause, and connected with "shall come:" "the people of the prince that shall come and find his destruction in the flood." (Keil.)
This, of course, it is impossible to apply to Titus. Let us see how it does, in fact, apply. The "people of the prince that shall come" we know historically as the Romans; the fourth beast or empire of the seventh chapter, it is conceded by the mass of interpreters, and susceptible of the most abundant proof, was also Roman. And now, looking at the prophetic history of the empire, surely it is not difficult to recognize in the little horn, whose actions bring judgment upon the beast, the prince that shall come whose end is in the flood. The closing statements in the chapter seem as if they should make doubt as to this really impossible. We return for a moment, however, to what characterizes the rest of the period. The R.V. renders it well: "And even unto the end shall be war; desolations shall be determined." The last verse of the prophecy now gives us, in connection with the doings of this little horn, the last of the seventy weeks: "And he shall confirm a covenant with the many for one week; and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease; and on account of the wing of abominations there shall be a desolator; even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate."
I have made in the translation some small and yet important alterations, which will be justified as we proceed. The first point to notice is that the last week is here divided in half, and that a half week of years - three and a half years - gives us another link which seems decisive with the history of the little horn. For "a time, times, and the dividing of a time" are times and laws given into the hands of this blasphemous and persecuting power, and here he causes sacrifice and oblation to cease for what is evidently this very period. This surely is a striking example of how times and laws have been given into his hands. And as the whole seventy weeks are determined upon Israel and Jerusalem, we see that the sacrifices must have been restored there. This naturally carries us back to the previous clause: "He shall confirm a covenant with the many for one week." It is not the covenant but a covenant: the definite article, misplaced here, has made people think of God’s Covenant with His people, and thus given aid to a false conception of its being Messiah that confirms it. But the antecedent to the pronoun "he" is certainly "the prince that shall come" as every other mark points in the same direction. On the other hand the article does stand before "many," making it "the many," - i.e., the mass of the Jewish people. The covenant becomes thus a political agreement with the mass of the Jewish nation for seven years; but in the week he breaks it, changes times and laws, and his tyranny begins.
Why he makes sacrifices and oblation to cease is easily seen from the seventh chapter. Every detail fits in the most exact way possible. The little horn speaks great words against the Most High, and wears out the saints of the Most High. It is as sacrifice to God that he stops the Jewish service. And in perfect agreement we read here: "And on account of the wing of abominations there shall be a desolator." This is quite literal, as our common version is not. The R. V. differs from it by translating "upon the wing," which is the more usual rendering of the pronoun, my own being simply the equivalent of "for" in that with which we are familiar, "For the protection of idols" is, I do not doubt, the sense sufficiently. A desolator comes in consequence of idolatry introduced, and this lasts until the decreed time expires - until the full end of the seventy weeks.
Notice another point where the seventh chapter not only confirms but explains the ninth. We have seen that the latter declares that at the end of the determined time the blessing comes for Israel. But the details of the seventy weeks show nothing but disaster and evil, right down to their expiration. How the blessing comes it does not show; but this the seventh chapter already supplies. The horn prevails against the saints for the three and a half times or years of either prophecy; but this is "till the Ancient of Days" comes (v. 22), which in a moment changes all. Let the reader only turn to Zech. xiv., and see how, in the very midst of Israel’s distress, the Lord appears: "For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city." And why? "Then shall the Lord go forth and fight against those nations as when He fought in the day of battle. And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with Thee."
We see, then, how, as in a moment, the desolation ends.
"And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and swore by Him that liveth forever that it shall be for a time, times, and a half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.
"And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand, two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waiteth and cometh to the thousand, three hundred and five and thirty days. But go thou thy way until the end be, for thou shalt rest and stand in thy lot at the end of the days" (chap. xii. 7, 11 - 13).
Here it is clear that we have an equal period to the time, times, and a half, if taken as three and a half years, as we have already taken them; that first thirty and then forty- five days more are added successively to this period; the twelve hundred and ninety days date from the setting up of the abomination, and therefore we may conclude that the twelve hundred and sixty also do this; and that at the end of the longest period Daniel stands in his lot, implying surely that the resurrection of the saints has taken place. Thus all of these dates are connected with the end as were the former ones - with the coming of the Lord, and the setting up of His kingdom.
And the taking away the daily sacrifice and setting up the abomination of desolation which is connected with these dates, interprets clearly the causing sacrifice and oblation to cease, and the desolation on account of the wing of abomination, of the ninth chapter. It is a confirmation of what has already been our conclusion from the previous prophecy alone, which one may well believe irresistible to any unprejudiced mind. And yet it is far from all that Scripture has to give us with regard to a period to which evidently it attaches the very greatest importance.
(2) Prophecies of the New Testament.
What we have gathered, then, from these different prophecies is this : -
In all this the simple comparison of scripture with scripture has set aside the need of any laboured interpretation. The time, times, and dividing of a time of the little horn’s prevalence (Dan. vii.) correspond so in every feature with the last half week of the seventy in chap. ix., and the time, times, and a half of the twelfth chapter, that to force them asunder would seem almost manifest perversion. The successive prophecies agree with the preceding ones in the most perfect way, while adding each something of its own. The one mind of the Spirit runs evidently through them all.
We are now going to add in the same manner some New- Testament prophecies to the Old, and see if still Scripture will not speak for itself, and become its own interpreter, - if as definite certainty cannot be reached as to the main features of unfulfilled prophecy as with regard to any other part of inspired testimony.
And the first passage we naturally take up proclaims its own connection with what we have been looking at in Daniel. I refer, of course, to the great prophecy of Matt. xxiv. Read in the light of the prophecies to which it refers, it becomes as clear and intelligible as can be.
The Lord has announced to His disciples the impending overthrow of the temple. They thereupon put two questions to Him, which in their minds were no doubt more closely connected than they would be in ours: "Tell us when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the age?"
As to the first question, which of course refers to the destruction of the temple, we have little to do with it just now. The answer will be found more fully given in Luke xxi., in which the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place more than thirty-five years afterward, is explicitly announced. In Matthew it will be found that the Lord deals rather with the second, double question, where they seem evidently to identify the coming of the Lord with "the end of the age" - for "world" it is not, either here or in the thirteenth chapter, where the same expression is to be found. Literally, it is the "consummation of the age."
Now, remembering Daniel, and that these were Jewish questioners, with at present none but Jewish hopes, but owning Jesus as their Messiah, - with no thought of the long interval which was in fact to elapse before His still future coming, it is plain that the age of which they spoke was the age of law - of Judaism as it then was. Of a Christian dispensation they could have no thought. The "coming" of which they spoke was doubtless connected with, if not derived from, the coming of the Son of Man of which Daniel had spoken. The "end of the age" we have found portrayed there in fact, in terms to which the Lord refers; but while they would necessarily think of it as the end of a Jewish age, most Christians would as naturally from their stand-point think of it as Christian.
For us, Judaism is gone forever, and it is a strange thing to speak of its revival; yet we have seen that Daniel shows us a week of special divine dealings with Judah and Jerusalem, cut off from the sixty-nine preceding by an unknown interval in which plainly Christianity has prevailed. And in this last week we find the temple- services again going on until their interruption by the head of Gentile power.
It is to this interruption the Lord refers, directly citing Daniel: "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand;) then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains; let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house; neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes." In Luke, where the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans eighteen centuries ago, is prophesied, while the same injunction to flee to the mountains is given, the sign is different - " Jerusalem compassed with armies;" and these latter directions are omitted, - they would be plainly out of place. No such rapid and instant flight as is here spoken of was needed to escape the desolating hosts. It is merely therefore said, "Let them which are in Jud~a flee to the mountains, and let them which are in the midst of it depart out, and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto." But here, the enemy is in the midst, the saints are the objects of special enmity, and there must be no delay: "And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days; but pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day." Here it is plain that Jews under the full rigor of Jewish law are contemplated.
And now comes another reference to Daniel. In his last prophecy we find that "at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince that standeth for the children of thy people; and there shall be time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book." (Chap. xii. i.)
Thus it is the great day of Jewish deliverance which is at hand, and they are delivered out of a time of unequaled trouble. The Lord’s words echo and emphasize the words of Daniel: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, - nor ever shall be. And except those days shall be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened."
The precise time of the tribulation is given by the OldTestament prophet - three years and a half; and we see by the Lord’s words that it is impossible to apply here the year-day theory, which would extend it to twelve hundred and sixty years. This certainly would not be shortening the days in any sense. He follows with the announcement of false Christs and false prophets as characterizing this period, - an addition to the Old Testament of the greatest significance, and which we shall find developed in succeeding prophecies: "Then, if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe him not. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, He is in the desert! go not forth; Behold, He is in the secret chambers! believe it not. For, as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be. For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together."
As in Daniel also, it is by this coming that the time of trouble is closed: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."
For our purpose, it is not necessary to go further. The agreement with former prophecies is clear and conclusive. A latter-day remnant is seen in Jerusalem, distinctly Jewish in character, yet listening to Christ’s words, and owned of God; and the end of the age of which the disciples inquire is identified with the broken-off last week of Daniel’s seventy. The temple is again owned as "the holy place," though in the meanwhile defiled with idolatry, and this before the Lord’s coming in the clouds of heaven. We necessarily ask ourselves, Where, then, is Christianity? and what does this presence once more of a Jewish "age" imply as to the present Christian dispensation?
To this, Scripture gives no undecided answer. It shows us that the Christian dispensation (properly so called,) is over then; that the Church, Christ’s body, is complete; that all true Christians have been caught up to Christ, and are with Him; that the rest of the professing church has been spewed out of His mouth, according to His threatening to Laodicea; that the Lord is now taking up again for blessing His people Israel and the earth, and we are again in the line of Old-Testament prophecy, and going on to the fulfillment of Old-Testament promises. That these promises belong to Israel, literally, - His kinsmen according to the flesh, - we have the unexceptionable witness of the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. ix. 4), who also warns the Gentile professing body, that they stand only by faith, and if they abide not in the goodness of God which He has shown them, shall be cut off; and Israel, abiding not in unbelief, should be graffed back again into her own olive-tree. He tells us also that this receiving of them back shall be "life from the dead" to the nations of the world; that blindness in part is happened unto Israel, only till the fullness of the Gentiles is come in; and then all Israel - the nation asa whole - shall be saved. And he adds that while, as regards the gospel, they are [treated by God asj enemies for our sakes, as touching the election they are yet beloved for the father’s sakes; because the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. (Rom. xi. 13 - 29.)
Thus the wonderful change which Matt. xxiv. exhibits is fully accounted for. The Jews and Judaism once more owned, shows that the Christian "gospel," having completed its full gathering of Gentiles as designed by God, is going out no longer. Heaven (though we must make a certain exception which we shall by and by consider,) - heaven is full. The gathering for earth and blessing there is now commencing.
The Lord has spoken of false Christs and false prophets in connection with that time. Let us turn now to the apostle John’s description of Antichrist. He warns us indeed that already in his time there were many; already there was the character of the "last time." He speaks of them as apostates, issuing from the professing church itself, never really Christians, though among them. (1 Jno. ii. r8, 19.) But he goes on to describe one special form, "the liar," "the antichrist," as his words really are. "Who is the liar," he asks, "but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?" And then he adds, "He is the antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son." (v. 22.) It will be found that there are here two forms of unbelief, which in this wicked one unite in one. The first is the Jewish one that denies that Jesus is the Christ. They do not detly that there is a Christ, but they deny Jesus to be this. The full Christian belief is not only that Jesus is the Christ, but that He is also the Son of the Father. "Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father," - there are many of these now, as the Unitarians so called; but they deny the Son to make much of the Father: the full climax of unbelief in this great head of it is here, that he denieth both the Father and the Son.
Thus the antichrist denies Christianity altogether; but he owns Judaism, for the very denial that Jesus is the Christ implies, however, that there is Christ. And this is the complete antichrist, who is not only against Christ, but takes His place. And so the Lord speaks of "false Christs." These are, by profession, then, Jews, and the antichrist is a Jew.
Let us turn to another picture, which the apostle puts before the Thessalonians. (2 Thess. 1. 1 - 12.) Here we shall find what unites John and Matthew, connecting the developed evil of apostate Christendom with the revival of Judaism which the Lord’s own words foreshow. And I quote from the Revised Version, which is in many respects an improvement upon the common one: - "Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him, to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is now present: let no man beguile you in any wise; for it will not be except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshiped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God. . . . For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work, only there is one that restraineth now until he be taken out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of His mouth, and bring to naught by the manifestation of His coming: even he whose coming is according to the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders, and all deceit of unrightousness for them that are perishing; because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
Thus the solemn end of Christendom is revealed. And already in the apostle’s days the leaven of evil was at work, which but for a divine restraint upon it would before this have permeated the whole mass of profession. But the apostasy will come, if even now rather it is not begun, of which the issue and final head will be this lawless one, who will sweep away with him to common ruin all that receive not the love of the truth. They will believe a lie - literally, it is "the lie," - and "who is the liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?" He opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or worshiped: certainly therefore "denieth the Father and the Son." But not only so: he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God." How can we forbear to think of that abomination of desolation standing in the holy place, which the Lord has called our attention to from Daniel?
But here is a notable instance of the need we have of the apostle’s warning that "no prophecy of the Scripture is to be interpreted by itself." To those rooted in the idea that Judaism is gone forever, and that the Christian Church is now the only "temple of God," what more natural and necessary than to interpret thIs of the pope? Nor do I for a moment say that he is not in the direct line of development; prophecy has oftentimes these incomplete anticipative fulfillments, which answer for the full and exhaustive one which is to come. But in the light of all that has preceded, we may be quite sure that any application to the head of Catholicism is only partial and anticipative. Popery has existed for too many centuries to be a sign of the coming day of the Lord; and one sitting as God in the temple of God is too simply explicative of the abomination of desolation in the holy place to make the application difficult or doubtful.
This wicked one, like the little horn of the fourth beast, finds his end also at the coming of the Lord. I do not mean by this that they are the same person, for they are not; but they belong to the same time, and are closely connected. Thus, then, the New ‘l’estament agrees perfectly with the Old in its representation of the end of the age. But we have not examined yet its fullest and most decisive testimony, which we find, just where we would expect to find it, in the book of Revelation. But of this we propose a more extended examination; and we have been gathering together the Scripture-testimony elsewhere only as introductory to this which lies before us. May the Lord Himself direct our inquiries and govern our hearts by the truth of His Word. It is not a mere intellectual study that we propose. We seek to have for our souls the spiritual power of what is unseen, - the future as light for the present, - the judgment of the Lord in the day of the Lord, in order to self-judgment now, - the joy of heaven for present communion. May He who alone can purge from our sight the dullness and drowsiness that so cling to us, our eyes anointed with His eye-salve, that we may see!