Book traversal links for Revelation 13-16
The next chapter unfolds the plans that Satan adopts to accomplish his long-cherished design of supplanting (not only gospel and church as now, but) all testimony on earth to the coming kingdom of God. It is the apostasy: Old and New Testaments are alike denied. Of two especial methods he will avail himself, suited to catch a twofold class of men never wanting in this world. Many natural men like power, others like religion. It is clear that man’s heart runs either after intellect and power, or, if conscience be active, into religious form to quiet it. The devil will therefore put forward two main instruments as leaders of systems that express human nature on either side, exactly suiting what man’s heart seeks and will have.
Satan has designed from the beginning to set up himself in man as God. For he too will work by man, as God Himself is pleased to develop all His wondrous ways and counsels in man. As the Lord Jesus is not only a divine person, but the expression of the divine glory no less than of His grace in man; and as the church is the object of Christ’s love in heavenly blessedness, and Israel for the earth; so the enemy (who cannot originate but only corrupt the truth, and lie by a sort of profane imitation of the counsels of God) will have his Beasts no less certainly than God has His Lamb. In Revelation 13 this is made plain. There are to be two Beasts or imperial powers; the first distinctively political, the second religious, both of them apostate and allies.
“And I11 stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads; and on his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads names of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like a leopardess, and his feet as of a bear, and his mouth as a lion’s mouth. And the dragon gave to him his power and his throne and great authority. And one of his heads [I saw] as slain unto death, and his death-stroke was healed, and the whole earth wondered after the beast. And they did homage to the dragon because he gave the authority to the beast, and they did homage to the beast, saying, Who is like the beast? and who can make war with him? And there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and authority was given him to act forty-two months. And he opened his mouth for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme his name and his tabernacle, [and] those that tabernacle in the heaven. And it was given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority was given to him over every tribe and people and tongue and nation. And all that dwell on the earth shall do homage to him, whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain. If any one hath an ear, let him hear. If any is for [or, leadeth into] captivity, into captivity he goeth. If any one shall kill by sword, by sword must he be killed. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”
The Beast that was beheld emerging from the then revolutionary state of the world is just adapted for the dragon to energise in opposition to God’s purpose and will. In Rev. 12 the dragon was seen similarly characterised as the beast. Both have the forms of power peculiar to the Roman empire. But there is a difference also: “And upon his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads names of blasphemy.” The dragon has the diadems on his heads; the Beast shows us more the final fact — the horns diademed. The dragon represents the enemy of Christ in his political employment of the Roman empire generally. It is the principle; and the heads or successive forms of power are crowned. The horns as a fact are only developed a little before its history closes in perdition. On the other hand, in the first Beast we see, not merely the hidden spirit of evil making use of the power of Rome in its various changes, but the empire in its final state when the deadly wound done to the imperial head is to be healed, and Satan shall have given to it thus revived his power, his throne, and great authority. Now this is the very time when the ten horns receive authority as kings; they are to reign simultaneously and continuously with the Beast, as Rev. 17 informs us. Hence the horns of the Beast are seen diademed (not the heads, as in the dragon’s case originally).
Further the Beast is described afterwards, though with remarkable points of difference if we examine the Beasts, as at first made known to Daniel (7). “And the beast which I saw was like a leopard (or, panther), and its feet as of a bear, and its mouth as a lion’s.” Here we have, not the territories, but certain qualities that resemble all the three first-named Beasts of the prophet Daniel. Satan does not originate, but adopts whatever will suit of that which has been. Hence he endeavours by this most singular amalgamation to bring out in its final phase the Beast or fourth empire (for there is none to succeed), so as to show pretension to everything known of old, as well as evil without parallel.
What is meant by “the Beast”? The imperial system of Rome revived. All the empires refused to recognise God above. Man was made to own Him, and he alone does as taught of God. Man alone of all beings in the earth was made to look up to One above, and is responsible to do the will of God. A beast does not look up but down; it has no sense of an unseen superior, no conscience toward God. “The fool hath said in his heart that there is no God.” In principle this is true of every unrenewed man; but here it is the more tremendous, because an empire ought to be the reflection of the authority that God in His providence conferred on it. No empire has avoided the moral sentence implied in the symbols: expediency has ever guided, not God; but this Beast will go beyond all that have gone before in lawless contempt of God and in blasphemies (vers. 5, 6).
When John wrote, the fourth Beast was in power; but the prophet was given to see that out of a state of political convulsion, just before the last three years and a half, and connected with Satan’s expulsion from heaven by the power of God, a Beast rises up out of the sea answering to the old Roman empire. That is, there will be a state of total confusion in the west, and an imperial power will rise up. “And I saw one of its heads as wounded to death; and its deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.” There are sufficient grounds for gathering that the wounded head was the imperial form of power. After having been long extinct, it reappears in the latter day. But there is a great deal more than simply the revival of imperialism, which draws out the astonishment of the world. They had thought it all over with the Roman empire. They could easily understand a new empire; a French, or a Teutonic kingdom, or any other of large space and population; but the revival of the Roman empire will take the world by surprise. The grounds of this assertion, however, depend on Rev. 17, which will appear in its place. Vers. 5, 6 define its character and duration.
It is not simply that the empire had the distinctive heads and horns of the Roman empire, with qualities by-and-by that belonged to the previous empires; it was marked by the revival of imperialism at the close under Satan’s authority. For “they did homage to the dragon, because he gave the authority to the beast: and they did homage to the beast, saying, Who [is] like the beast, and who is able to war with him?” It is evident from the context that an apostate and idolatrous state appears in the world. The dragon and the Beast are alike set up against God. This first Beast represents the western empire. The religious chief will not be in the west but in Jerusalem, and becomes, as we learn elsewhere, a special object of worship in the temple of God there at the close, as 2 Thessalonians 2 indicates, as well as Daniel 11:36-38. He is the second Beast of our chapter.
This is a difficulty to some, because it is distinctly said that the man of sin will not tolerate any other object of worship. But these wicked personages work together, and are allies. To worship the one is pretty much to worship the other; just as, in regard to the true God, there is no worship of one person in the Godhead without the same homage due to the others. It is in vain for any to pretend to honour the Father without the Son, and he that worships the Father and the Son can only pay it in the power of the Holy Ghost. When we worship God as such, when we say “God,” not Father only is meant, but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. So precisely is this awful counterpart, the fruit of the energy of satanic craft and power at the close. The worshipping of the dragon and of the Beast seems, therefore, consistent with divine worship paid to the man of sin, the contrast to “Jesus Christ the Righteous.” They are, as has often been said with justice, the great counter-trinity, the trinity of evil creatures as opposed to the Trinity of the Godhead. The devil is clearly the source of it all; but the public leader of his power politically is the first Beast; and the grand religious agent, who works out crafty plans and even miracles in its support, is the second Beast of this chapter, or the man of sin in the great prophetic Epistle.
This appears to be the true and mutual bearing of all, if we bow to these scriptures. Differences of thought exist here as in almost everything else. But in a world of doubt objection to it has no force. The only question is, What best satisfies the word of God? what most faithfully answers not merely to its letter but its grand principles? So far from any real obstacle in the fact of these three different objects being alike honoured in worship, the force and awful nature of the case cannot well be understood unless this is seen as the revealed truth.
At this time it is evident that there is a people in heaven removed from exposure to the power either of Satan or of the public instruments of his malice in the world. There are also saints here below fully exposed to his hatred. The tabernacle above may be blasphemed, and those that dwell there Satan may revile, but cannot even accuse them longer before God. He turns therefore to deadly persecution on the earth. “And it was given him to make war with the saints” (clearly these are not in heaven), “and to overcome them; and authority was given him over every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation. And all that dwell upon the earth shall do him homage.” There is an invariable distinction between the Gentiles at large in the world, and “those that dwell on the earth.” The difference is that the former class is a broader term, embracing the world generally; whereas by the latter is meant the narrower sphere, whose character of earthliness is the more decided, because they had heard and hated the heavenly testimony of Christ and the church. Names and forms might be still held; but apostate hearts deliberately preferred earth to heaven, and would surely have their portion in neither, but in the lake of fire.
It is solemn to see that this is what Christendom hastens to become: infidelity and superstition are rapidly working toward it now. The stream flows forward to this earthly and godless issue. Never since the gospel was preached were men more thoroughly settling down in the endeavour to make earth their paradise. They consequently forget heaven day by day, only thinking of it as a necessity when they die, and cannot avoid leaving the world. But as for habitually turning to heaven, as a hope full of joy or glory, still less as in faith a present home for the affections, whenever was it less livingly kept in the minds and hearts of men? One lack accounts for it all: Christ is not all, but the heart is divided between the first man and the Second. Such unbelief prepares for the designation given to the people that did hear of heaven, but deliberately at last give up all its hopes to settle down on the earth. They dwell on the earth. The others are “every tribe, and people, and tongue, and nation,” who have heard comparatively little about the gospel. The Beast will endeavour to deal with both. Alas! “all that dwell upon the earth shall do homage to him, whose name is not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain.”
Carefully bear in mind that “from the foundation of the world” belongs not to “slain,” but to the writing of the name. The Lamb was not slain from the foundation of the world, though there was the eternal purpose; but the name was written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain. Compare Revelation 17:8, where the omission of the slain Lamb makes the true connection plain and certain.
“If any man have an ear, let him hear. He that is for captivity, into Captivity he goeth.” It is a statement to guard the saints from taking power into their own hands. They might cry to God, they might ask Him to arise and judge the earth; but they were not to resist evil. As the Beast would take power, so should he suffer the consequence. He might; lead into captivity, but into captivity he goes. He might kill with the sword, but so he must be killed himself: indeed his would be a far more awful doom. Patience, with this retributive sanction annexed, is put as a general principle, and stated in such a form as to apply to any one. It was surely and particularly meant to guard the saints from mistake only too natural. “Here is the patience and faith of the saints” This gives the application.
In the latter part of the chapter we have a second Beast. “And I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and it had two lamb-like horns, and it spoke as a dragon. And it exerciseth all the authority of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and those that dwell in it to do homage to the first beast, whose death-wound was healed. And he worketh great signs, that he should cause even fire to come down out of the heaven unto the earth in the sight of men. And he deceiveth those that dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to work before the beast, saying to those that dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast that hath the stroke of the sword and lived. And it was given him to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as should not do homage to the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bondmen, that they should have a mark given them on their right hand or upon their forehead, and that no one should be able to buy or sell, save he that hath the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast; for it is a man’s number, and his number [is] six hundred [and] sixty-six.”
This calls for more attention, because there is danger of some confusion and difficulty on this subject. Let it be observed that the second Beast more particularly resembles in wickedness what the Lord Jesus is in goodness. It is indeed a “Beast”; that is, he affects to be a composite system of power, though outwardly on a far smaller scale than the first Beast. Still it is a Beast, and not merely a horn; he has two, indeed, of peculiar character. “He had two horns like a lamb.” There was the pretence of resembling the Messiah, and it would appear, not in priestly but in prophetic and kingly power. But “he spoke as a dragon.” There was really the expression of Satan. — “And he exercises all the authority of the first brass in his presence.” Thus the second Beast is the more energetic of the two, and the active instrument of the darkest evil, the man of sin who denies the Man of righteousness, Christ Jesus.
So it has been when enormous wickedness has been forged for this world. Its promoters, the persons that exercise the influence (sometimes unseen, sometimes publicly), put religion forward as the rule. The religion of the earth is the prolific source of all the worst evil done under the sun. How different the wisdom that cometh down from above to form in Christ the service and the worship of the saints! The devil could not accomplish his plans if there was not such a thing as earthly religion. Is not this an awful and solemn fact for those that have the smallest connection with it?
The second Beast or Antichrist does not come out of the sea, or the turbulent state of the nations, but out of the earth. It is a more settled state of things when this Beast appears. Then he exercises all the authority of the first Beast before him, that is, in his presence, and with his full sanction. And he makes the earth and those that dwell in it to do homage to the first Beast. For there is a full understanding between them. In 2 Thessalonians 2 we do not hear of this, but that he claims worship, and is himself worshipped as God. No priest as such affects any claim of the sort. He arrogates no less to himself, sitting down in the temple of God and showing himself that he is God.
It makes the whole matter plain, if we remember that the first Beast leads the Roman empire, but as revived with a seat restricted to the west. On the other hand, the second Beast, though in league with the first Beast he may mislead men far and wide, claims for himself the land of Palestine with a Jewish form of glory. If one look into 2 Thessalonians 2 it is clear that we are in view of what will be in the land of Judea, and not in Rome. It is “the temple of God” that is particularly seen, where the man of sin sets himself up as an object of worship. Only we must take care to read scripture with scripture. If one treat 2 Thessalonians 2 as giving all that the Bible tells about the man of sin, scripture is foreclosed, and one must have an imperfect account. On the other hand, if we take only Revelation 13, we shall want certain elements necessary for completing the sketch. All this is arranged with consummate wisdom by God, because He does not wish us to read only one part of His word, but that we should thoroughly search into every other. He does not give a proper understanding of holy writ, unless we confide therein and value all that He has given us. Consequently it is only by putting together these scriptures, as to which there is ample light for our guidance, that we can in our measure enter into His mind.
As the first part of the chapter brings before us a mighty external power identifiable with the Roman empire, equally certain is it that 2 Thessalonians 2 describes not a merely civil system so much as a religious power. An utterly lawless personage is the man of sin, but still essentially a religious power with the highest claim. It arrogates to itself Christ’s place and the reverence that belongs to God. Now this is precisely what characterises the second Beast. It had two horns. Their character is connected with the whole testimony of John. For any one who has looked into his Gospel will see that, even as to our blessed Lord Himself, its general bent is to trace what He was on earth, rather than what He is in heaven, where is His proper and unquestionable priesthood for the heavenly saints, in contrast with Aaron’s on earth for the earthly people. There are exceptional passages, no doubt; but while Paul’s object directs us to Christ in heaven as the special character of his witness, John on the contrary draws particular attention to what He was on earth.
This is not without importance for the meaning of these two horns. The Lord Jesus was the great prophet on earth; and assuredly He will reign as king over all the earth. But what lies between? He is priest; but He is priest in heaven (Heb. 8:4). Accordingly it is not the place of John but of Paul to bring out the heavenly priesthood of Christ. John never directly treats of Christ above as Priest or as Head. He dwells on His advocacy there (which has an aim quite distinct from His priesthood) in Rev. 13, and again on His coming to take us above in Rev. 14, as parts of Rev. 17 and 20 too are exceptions. But the general teaching of John is on Christ manifesting God here below; as no less clearly Paul’s doctrine is man in Him glorified above.
But when the Antichrist appears, he does not take the place of priest; far higher will be his assumption. He sets up to be the Prophet that should come, and the great King, imitating what Messiah was expected to be for Israel. He has two horns, not seven. It is a lame imitation; he has not at all the full power of Christ. In the Lord we saw perfection of power and fulness of wisdom for government. In the Antichrist there is the pretension to what belonged to Christ connected with the earth, with the most marked absence of what pertains to Him in heaven.
This is no mean evidence, by the way, that the idea of finding in the papacy its full meaning is a mistake; for the essential feature of the papacy lies in its assumption to be a living earthly representative of Christ’s priesthood. It is the corruption of what is heavenly, not Messianic. Popery is much more the antichurch than the Antichrist. But when Revelation 13 is fulfilled, no question can be of the church here any longer. The Christian body will be no more seen on earth; the saints of the high places who had been here will then be on high.
Accordingly it is not a mere sham clothing with the priestly power of Christ which the Antichrist puts on, but a false assumption of His prophetical place which was on the earth, and of His kingly sphere which will also be thereon. This personage with two horns like a lamb is active in the performance of great signs and wonders. He has a double activity. First of all, he borrows the controlling influence of the Roman empire, exercising all the authority of the first Beast in his sight. Besides this, he does a vast deal on his own account which the Roman emperor could not do. He imitates the power not only of Christ but of God. He claims to be the Jehovah God of Israel. Just as Jesus is Jehovah as well as Messiah, so this vessel of Satan’s power in Jerusalem will emulate what God did by Elijah to disprove the claims of Baal. Fire then came down and consumed the sacrifice of old, God demonstrating as clearly that Baal was not God as that Jehovah is so. So the second Beast will do wonders, if not really, “before men.” Thus he deceives them that dwell on the earth by reason of those signs which it was given him to work before the Beast. The signs were in their sight.
All this marks the Antichrist. The first Beast works no miracles whatever; he astonishes the world by reviving the long dead western empire: but this is a different thing, and cannot properly be called a sign. It may and will amaze men, but is no proper miracle. The Beast out of the earth, who is incomparably more subtle than the first, works great signs; no doubt it is by Satan’s energy, but still he works them. The consequence is that he deceives those that dwell on the earth, saying to them especially “to make an image to the beast, which hath the stroke of the sword, and lived.” More than this, we read that “it was given him to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.” Whatever shame be the boast of liberty, as at the first French Revolution, the real future will be the most ruthless and despotic oppression to death over all who do not bow down, not only to the Beast, but to his image that is made by diabolical power or trickery to pronounce sentence like a judge.
The various guesses made respecting the number of the Beast are inadequate. It may be one of those secrets that cannot be unravelled until the person appears, when at least “the wise” shall understand. That we are to understand it now is more than we ought to assume. What moral profit could it serve? Assuredly everything that can edify and refresh the soul, all that can be used by the Holy Ghost for real blessing in separating us from the world and attaching us to heaven, and above all to Christ, we may gather now from the Revelation rightly understood. Indeed we ought thus to gather more than those who are to be in the circumstances can reap in their day. But there may be points of minute application kept back by the wise reserve of God, who does not indulge mere curiosity, as this would be. Such knowledge will be of practical importance only when the time comes; and therefore this may be just one of those points in which the Lord does not now gratify men’s minds. Many explanations which have been offered entirely and obviously fail; for instance, “apostasy” and such like. “Apostasy” is not the number of a man; nor for similar reasons can “apostate” stand, nor perhaps “the Latin man.”
Next we come to chapter 14, where we have neither the counsels of God as opposed by Satan (hitherto in heaven to accuse before God, but at that day cast down unto earth), nor the plan and instruments by which Satan gives battle to those divine counsels. This we have had in Revelation 12 and Revelation 13. But now we enter on another line of things. What is God doing with and for His own? Nothing? Impossible! He does what is active in good for His then purposes. God is pleased to reveal to us a variety of ways in which He will put forth His power, and send both testimony and warning suited to the crisis; and this is given with remarkable completeness throughout the seven divisions to which this chapter naturally lends itself.
The first is a full numbered multitude separated to the Lamb on mount Zion. It is no repetition of the sealed company in Revelation 7, no mere securing out of the twelve-tribed whole. Judah had a guilt which Ephraim, far away, did not share; and grace there works, as one might say, “beginning at Jerusalem.” The Lord Jesus is about to insist on His rights in the midst of Israel; and Zion is the known centre of royal grace. “Royal” is said, because it is Christ asserting His title as Son of David; but it is also royal “grace,” because it supposes the total ruin of Israel, and that the Lord in pure favour begins at Zion to gather round Himself once more. This accordingly is the first form in which God displays His action for the last days. The devil may have his Beasts and horns; God has His Lamb; and the Lamb now is not seen on the throne in heaven, or taking a book; He stands on mount Zion. It is a notable point of progress toward the kingdom that is clearly brought into view before the close. It answers more to the style of David than to the settled reign of peace in Solomon’s day. But how unintelligent to fancy that these out of Judah any more than the scaled out of Israel in chap. vii. are Christians! It is opposed, not only by internal reasons but by the structure of the book, which shows the heavenly saints changed and with the Lord Jesus (chap. 4). These saints are expressly in verse 3 distinct from the crowned elders, like the Gentile crowd in Rev. 7:9-17.
“And I saw, and, behold, the Lamb stood upon the mount Zion, and with him a hundred [and] forty-four thousand, having his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” They are associated with the earth-rejected Messiah; and in the vision they are seen with Him on mount Zion. It is not a question of “their” Father. No such relationship is ever found in the Apocalypse, but the Lamb’s name and “his Father’s name written on their foreheads.”
“And I heard a voice out of the heaven, as a voice of many waters, and as a voice of great thunder; and the voice which I heard [was] as of harpers harping with their harps; and they sing as a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the elders: and no one could learn the song but the hundred [and] forty-four thousand that had been bought from the earth. These are they who were not defiled with women; for they are virgins.” They had not corrupted themselves; and the Lamb was their leader. With Babylonish wickedness they had nothing to do; pure in spirit they were associated with the holy Sufferer. “These are they that follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were bought from among men, first-fruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are blameless.” “Before the throne of God” is spurious.
Such is the first action of God. It forms a complete remnant, not from the twelve tribes of Israel, such as we saw in Rev. 7, nor simply sealed for security against providential judgments. This is particularly out of Jews proper; first-fruits to God and the Lamb, gathered out from those guilty of His rejection. Now God answers all that and other wickedness by this merciful and honourable separation to the Lamb, who is about to be installed in His royal seat on mount Zion. They not only follow Him as Messiah, but as the holy Sufferer and rejected One.
The next scene gives us an angel with a message to Gentiles. “And I saw another angel fly in mid heaven, having an everlasting gospel to preach to those that sit on the earth, and unto every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people.” Why is it called “everlasting”? Remember that the gospel as now preached is a special gospel in character, fulness, and time, in no way an “everlasting” gospel. Nobody ever heard the gospel of the grace of God till Jesus died, rose, and went to heaven. The gospel as it should be preached in and out of Christendom depends on the most stupendous facts ever accomplished here below, for which God waited more than four thousand years even of man’s dwelling on the earth before He would or could righteously send it forth. Consequently the gospel of His grace as we know it is never in scripture called an “everlasting gospel.” Do not most use these terms without thinking what they really mean? When they speak of the “everlasting gospel,” they have probably a vague notion that it connects us with eternity. They think it a grand and worthy epithet, conveying one really knows not what. It is a mistake, if scripture is to decide.
“Everlasting gospel” means what it says: those glad tidings which always have been and always will be true. Whatever else God has made known to man, this has always abode unchanging. The glad tidings of God since man fell were that He purposed, by the woman’s Seed, Christ Jesus, to bless man and to crush Satan. Even the end of all things will proclaim the selfsame thing. The millennium will be the display and demonstrative testimony to it. When judgment in every form is over, in the new heavens and the new earth man will be thoroughly and for ever blest, and God will be with them, their God.
The declaration of this truth, as here described, is an everlasting gospel. In the latter day it will act as setting aside the lie of Satan, who puts and would fain keep man in a position of estrangement from God. For He is morally forced to be the judge of men, instead of being the blesser of all that believe on the earth. All misrepresentation of God is the fruit of Satan’s wiles; but the everlasting gospel presents God as the blesser of man and creation. This was His word ere sin entered, and this He will certainly bring to pass (not of course for every individual). Alas! most listen to Satan and despise God’s mercy in Christ, especially such as having heard reject the gospel of His grace. And these are lost for ever. But God is love as surely as He is light: what ought He to be to all who persistently by grace honour both the Son and the Father?
The way in which the subject is spoken of here confirms this. “Fear God, and give glory to him” (there is thus the evident contradiction of idolatry); “for the hour of his judgment is come.” Then will be the downfall of those that turn from God to all the vanities of the nations, as ready to trust in the creature as to distrust the true God. “And do homage to him that made the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” It is the universal message of God to man, founded on His creative glory. The solemn threat of His speedy judgments is a ground for pressing on the defiled conscience of man the claim of the honour solely due to Him.
There are no doubt many who think it an extraordinary circumstance that God should send out such a message as this in days rapidly approaching. Let us consider why it is to be so. Men conjecture out of their own position and judge from their own circumstances. But none can understand aright as long as he reasons and concludes thus. Not so is any part of the Bible understood, least of all perhaps prophecy. If it be a question of our conduct or duty, it is indispensable to stand on our proper relationship; we must abide carefully in the place that God has given us, while bowing to the word of God that applies to us there. How can we act intelligently or rightly as Christians unless we, knowing what it means, believe as Christians? We only glorify our God and Father just so far as we as children look up to Him as our Father, and as saints own Him as our God. This is surely true.
But here we no longer find Christians on earth There are elect Jews; there are nations preached to, along with “those that sit [or, are settled] on the earth.” That is, there are men in fixed unbelief under this designation, as well as the mass of nations, tribes, tongues, and peoples. It seems then that God comes down, as it were, to meet them on the lowest possible ground of His own truth. They are called to fear God and give glory to Him and this is on the footing that He is Judge, just about to deal with His own world. He calls upon them to do homage to the Creator, away from the idolatry of those that worship the creature.
At this present moment there is the working of a leaven that will end in idolatry, especially (if there be in this a difference) for the higher and educated orders of this country to drag into it the lower also. In the humbler classes their gross love for sensible objects, pleasant sounds, impressive processions, and striking shows prepares them for it. But there is the active instilling of a spirit, no doubt more subtle and refined among educated men, which will infallibly school them into naturalistic idolatry before many years are over. There is, on the one hand, the material tendency of modern science and literature; there is, on the other, the condescending patronage of times that are past: the excessive cultivation of art, music, flower-shows, the revival of Greek plays and aesthetics generally, perhaps of the Olympic games, etc. On these dangerous tracks all that is now energetically leavening the world tends to bring man back to heathenism again. The truth of Christ is to their minds severe and exclusive. How much more “light and sweetness” to have a Pantheon for Him and all other objects of veneration! Schiller strove for it, and Goethe with his maxim of “the good of evil,” and Max Müller with his philosophy of religions.
However this may sound to those most confident in their unbelief, we must remember that another cause of a most solemn nature is plainly revealed: God is going to pour out a judicial delusion on Christendom. It is what the apostle calls the apostasy, or “falling away”; and it is at hand. He will not only inflict severe blows of judgment but give men up to believe a lie — the great lie of the devil — the easy-going god of indifference to man, if indeed there be a god. The great truth of all times is that God, the Creator of all, the God who has now revealed Himself in Christ and by redemption, alone is the due object of worship and service. So far then is this message from being a strange thing, that it appears exactly suitable to man as he will then be situated, and is no less appropriate to God’s wisdom and goodness.
Another consideration perhaps may help some as connected with this and confirmatory of it, founded on the last part of Matthew 25, where all the nations are called up before the Son of Man when He sits as King on the throne of His glory. Surely this cannot be in heaven but on earth: how could “all the nations” be seen on high? It will be remembered that He tells those whom He designates as the “sheep” that, inasmuch as they did what they had done to His “brethren,” it was really to Him; as on the other hand the insults fell on Him which were aimed at them. These acts of kindness, or of hostile indifference, will be owned by the Lord when He judges the quick. It is no use for people to call it the general judgment, or the judgment of our works. It has nothing to do with us who believe on Him now. The one principle before us in this scripture is His dealing with the living Gentiles, or all nations according to their ways with His brethren. To act aright then will require real power of God through grace. The pressure against His messengers at that time will be enormous. If any receive them well, it will be from faith, however small may be the measure of their faith. That to honour His brethren is virtually to honour Himself, they had not themselves known. When they stand in presence of the King, how astonished they are that He should regard what was done to the messengers of His gospel in the last days as if done to Himself! When men are raised from the dead, they know as they are known; but these are the nations alive in flesh. Compare Matthew 24:14.
Certainly these Gentiles were wrought in by divine grace, yet evidently they are far from what is called “intelligent.” How often must one beware of making too much of this! What a constant snare it is to slip into unconscious or inconsiderate criticism! Men are apt to give themselves an exaggerated importance on the score of their knowledge. God attaches a far higher value to the heed paid to the Lord Himself, and to those He sends out. It is a crucial test. Then most of all it will be so, because these messages will go forth to the nations on the earth before the end comes. Growingly lifted up and self-satisfied, the nations are summoned by Jewish messengers (poor and contemptible in most eyes), who will solemnly proclaim the kingdom just at hand; for the King is coming in person to judge the quick apart from and before the judgment of the dead. Some souls here and there will receive them, not only treating them in love, but this because they receive the message. The power of the Spirit alone gives them faith. None less than God Himself inclines their heart. Accordingly the Lord here refers to its reception, with the grace that accompanied it, as evidence of their heeding Himself in the persons of His brethren, the messengers.
This is similar to, if not the same as, the everlasting gospel. It is called by Matthew the “gospel of the kingdom.” The “gospel of the kingdom” and the “everlasting gospel” are substantially like. In the Revelation it is thus described, because it was always in the purpose of God, through the bruised Seed of the woman, to crush the foe and to bless man himself here below. This Matthew, in accordance with his design, calls rather the “gospel of the kingdom,” because Christ is going to be King of a kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world. S. John, it would seem, calls it an “everlasting gospel,” because it is in contrast with special messages from time to time (Heb. 4:2), as well as with all that had to do with man as he is here below. At this most corrupt time the suited glad tidings will be sent forth, and certain souls will receive it by God’s grace. Thus the second scene in the chapter is the proclamation of an everlasting gospel to those settled down on the earth, and to the nations, etc., as the first section was the separation of a remnant of Jews to the Lamb on mount Zion. Both point, as do other visions of the book, to the various operations of God’s goodness, and to the different groups of blessing He will form. Is it incredible that God should thus work in honour of Christ the Lamb? How good is the God we adore!
The third section, which may be passed over with comparatively few words, is the warning of Babylon’s fall. “And another, a second angel, followed, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, which hath made all nations drink of the wine of the fury of her fornication.” It is the first notice of man’s mock-church, once and long the chief source of ecclesiastical corruption, and still further lapsing into Gentile abominations in the future. But we shall hear in due time unmistakable marks and instructive details of an object so repulsive to God, and so deceptive for the natural man.
The fourth is a warning of fatal danger from the Beast. “And the third angel followed them, saying with a great voice, If any one doeth homage to the beast and his image, and receiveth a mark on his forehead, or upon his hand, he also shall drink of the wine of the fury of God, that hath been mingled unmixed in the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone before the holy angels and before the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up unto ages of ages: and they have no rest day and night, who do homage to the beast and his image, and if any one receiveth the mark of his name.” So far these divine dealings go in pairs; as the work among the Jews, and then a final testimony to the Gentiles (though here we have angelic intervention, not in the first case); next is sent the warning about Babylon, and another yet more urgent about the Beast. “Here is the endurance of the saints, that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” Grace and love could guard them, though they be confessors of a faith by no means up to the measure of the “one faith” of Christians, but suited of God to their day.
Then comes the fifth, which is very different. It is a declaration, that “blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, from henceforth.” From this time nobody that belongs to the Lord is going to die, and those that die in the Lord (i.e. in fact all who have thus died since Rev. 4, 5) are on the eve of blessedness, not by personal exemption but by sharing the first resurrection and the reign with Christ, which terminates persecution and death for His name. The wicked must pay the wages of sin, and be destroyed by the judgments of God; but there shall be no more dying in the Lord after this. As a class these are to be blessed (not to die) henceforth. “And I heard a voice out of the heaven saying, Write, Blessed [are] the dead which die in [the] Lord, from henceforth. Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; for their works follow with them.” There is an end of such sorrow and labour: the Lord is going to take the world and all things in hand.
Accordingly the next scene runs, “And I saw, and, behold, a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sitting son-of-man-like, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Send thy sickle, and reap; for the hour to reap is come; for the harvest of the earth is dried. And he that sat upon the cloud thrust (or, put) his sickle upon the earth; and the earth was reaped.” It is not here a question of gathering in. One Son-of-Man-like is seen with the crown of gold, King of righteousness, not yet manifested as King of peace, which will surely follow in its season (Heb. 7:2).
Then comes the close of all these things. “And another angel came out of the temple that [is] in the heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the altar, that had authority over the fire; and called with a great voice to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Send thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripened.” This goes further. How growingly intense is the repeated “sharp sickle”! For the harvest the call was out of the temple; here it is out of the temple that is in the heaven. It is not only wrath on earth but from heaven. Another angel comes out from the altar (i.e. the place of human responsibility, where God manifests Himself to sinners in the sacrifice of Christ, judging sins but in grace). O ye that idolise forms and rites, postures and impostures, beware; yours is not worship in spirit and truth! Could an apostle if here recognise you as keeping the unity of the Spirit,
So much the more tremendous is His vengeance on the earthly religionists who despise Christ and the cross in word and in deed. This angel has authority over the fire, the sign of detective and consuming judgment. “And the angel put his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and put [it] into the great winepress of the fury of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress unto the bridles of the horses for a thousand six hundred stades” (or furlongs).
In short then, if we sum up this series we have here the harvest and the vintage, the two great forms of divine judgment at the close: the harvest being that judgment which discerns between the just and the unjust; and the vintage being the infliction of unmingled wrath on apostate religion, “the vine of the earth,” the object of God’s special abhorrence. For in plain and direct terms we have seven distinct acts in which God will interfere in the way, first of grace for a double testimony; then of warnings to the world; next also of comfort as to His deceased; finally of judging the evil results, as far as the quick are concerned, at the advent of the Son of Man.
Here closes the striking series of Rev. 12 - 14, which are not in historical sequence of the successive Trumpets, or at least of the seventh, but go back to give us the secret springs of the crisis to which we were brought generally in the seventh Trumpet, the plans of Satan when he lost access to heaven for ever, and what God meanwhile does for His glory to the end of the age. Then we resume a fresh and final septenary of divine inflictions, the seven last Bowls of God’s fury to be poured out on man’s apostate and impenitent iniquity.
A peculiar scene is described in chaps. 15, 16. On this one we need not now bestow more than a few words. Thus it connects itself with what came before us in Rev. 11:15-18. Still more plainly it contains that which is shown us in Rev. 17, 18, the judgment of Babylon. “And I saw another sign in the heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having seven strokes, the last; for in them is finished the fury [
ὁ Θυμὸς] of God.” You will observe that it is not yet the Lord’s appearing. This is of importance to show the structure of this portion of the book. We must carefully beware of supposing that the seven Bowls or Vials are after the Son of Man is come for the harvest and the vintage of the earth, which are at the end. We must go back, therefore, not to the beginning of Rev. 14 but before its last acts. The last of the Bowls, or the seventh, is the fall of Babylon. This judgment of course corresponds with the third dealing of God in Rev. 14. The first is the separation of the godly Jewish remnant; the second, an everlasting gospel to the Gentiles; and the third, the fall of Babylon. Thus the last Bowl of wrath only brings us up to the same point. Hence the Bowls must not in any way be supposed to follow after Rev. 14, but only after its earlier part at the utmost. This is important, because each true landmark helps to gather a juster idea how to place chronologically the various portions of the book. The last Bowl is also the last outpouring of God’s wrath before the Lord Jesus appears. It synchronises with the third out of seven consecutive acts in 14. The end of Rev. 16 does not in point of time fall lower than the third step in those of Rev. 14. The fifth from its nature is not a judgment,. but a comfort peculiarly seasonable at that juncture. Certainly the fourth, sixth, and seventh parts of Rev. 14 are events necessarily subsequent to the seven Bowls of God’s wrath, which close before the Son of Man appears.
Let us look then a little into the subject. “And I saw as a sea of glass.” Here it is distinguished in its accompaniments from the description in Rev. 4. There the elders were seen on thrones, with the sea of glass bearing its silent but strong testimony that these saints had done with earthly needs and defilements. A sea of glass would not avail for those who required the washing of water by the word. Their immunity is indicated by that symbol. This is not only intelligible but even plain. When the glorified saints are caught up to heaven, they no longer want what was set forth by the laver and its water to purify. The sea of glass attests that the purity was henceforth fixed. The fact is that they were outside and above the earth, where water is needed to cleanse the daily defilements. It is not blood we need for a perpetual standing, but the daily application of the washing of water by the word. If the Advocate wash not our feet, then have we no part with Him.
Here it is not merely a sea of glass, but mingled with fire. What does this teach? That these saints passed through the time of fearful fiery tribulation, as did not the elders. The absence of the fire in connection with the elders is just as significant as the presence of fire in connection with the saints in collision with the Beast and the False Prophet, of whom we are now hearing. If people ask, Are the saints to pass through the time of tribulation? the right answer is this, What saints are meant? Those represented by the elders were caught up to heaven at Christ’s coming before that time. Scripture is positive. If one only means that saints called afterwards pass through that day of inflicted trial, it is unquestionable. In short we have only to distinguish persons and times, and all becomes plain: by confounding the two all is made a mass of obscurity. But scripture cannot be broken.
“And those that come conquerors from the beast, and from his image, and from the number of his name, standing, upon the sea of glass, having harps of God.” The victory over the Beast is never predicated of the elders in any sort; nor is there any association with the elders here. It is a closing scene of fearful trial’. This is important The only victors here noticed are confined to the time when Satan’s last plans will be consummated. These are seen, as a sign in heaven, delivered if they died before the Beast falls. At the least the fact is undeniable that these conquerors belong exclusively to the time of the last efforts of the devil through the Beast and the False Prophet. They are strictly speaking therefore Apocalyptic saints, and the final company of those who refused to bow.
It will be recollected that according to Rev. 6 the first sufferers who died for the truth were to wait for another company to be killed as they were. But it is a mistake on every ground to interpret either the one chapter or the other as of Christ and the church. So with those standing upon the sea of glass mingled with fire. The structure of the book proves each to be a special company, and all distinct from the twenty-four elders, who really do represent the entire aggregate of those that rise at Christ’s coming Although these joyful sufferers may have fallen under the enemy’s hand, they really come off victors, and are here seen standing on the sea of glass having harps of God. It was therefore rightly styled “mingled with fire”; for this tribulation transcends all before. Their melody in praise of the Lord was none the worse for the sea of fiery trial through which they pass into His presence. The harps were of God, not man’s.
“And they sing the song of Moses, servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” Thus it is plain that they are not Christians in the strict or true sense of the word. Assuredly they are saints most really, but they had not such relations as now subsist spiritually; they knew not the bond which is made good by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in those who are now associated with Christ. So exclusive is it for us that those who were under Moses are under him no more; they own no master or head but Christ. The souls of whom we here read retain their link with Jewish things, though beyond a doubt they serve God and the Lamb. Hence we hear of them “saying, Great and marvellous [are] thy works, Lord God the Almighty; righteous and true [are] thy ways, O King” — not “of saints” but — “of the nations.”
There is beyond doubt no such thought or phrase in scripture as “King of saints.” It is one of the worst readings of the rather vicious Text. Rec. of the Revelation. Not only is it against the best witnesses, but it conveys an unfounded notion of mischievous consequence For what can go more to destroy in principle and practice the proper relationship of the saints to the Lord? Elsewhere we never hear of such a thing as “King of saints,” nor has it any just sense. To the saints the Lord Jesus stands undoubtedly as their Lord and Master; but “King” is a relationship with a nation living on the earth. It is not a connection that pertains to the new man. Besides, even these if martyred belong actually to heaven, where such a relationship would be strange indeed. Thus it is strange doctrine as well as a fictitious reading. The allusion is to Jeremiah 10:7. There all may find “king of nations,” with other words which are cited here. If these saints were not exclusively Gentiles, at least they comprehended such; and this has to be borne in mind in reading the passage. The true title then is “king of the Gentiles” or “nations.” No doubt King of the Jews He is; but those in particular who were Gentiles themselves would and ought to rejoice in being able to praise Him as King of nations, as the Jewish prophet fully recognised of old.
“Who shall not fear [thee], O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only [art] holy (or, gracious): for all the nations shall come and do homage before thee.” Here again it is not Israel, but all the nations shall come. “For thy righteousnesses were manifested.” They anticipate the triumph reserved for God in the day of power and glory at Christ’s second advent.
“And after these things I saw, and the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in the heaven was opened: and out of the temple came the seven angels that had the seven plagues, clothed in pure bright linen, and girded about their breasts with golden girdles And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the fury of God that liveth unto the ages of the ages. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no one was able to enter into the temple, till the seven strokes of the seven angels were fulfilled.” It is not now the ark of God’s covenant seen in the opened temple; it is characterised as the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in the heaven (not yet on earth); and judgments follow on apostate Gentiles, not the revelation of the divine counsels touching Israel. Doubtless the mass or many of the Jews worship at this time the man of sin in the ostensible temple of God, as it was historically and to their extreme guilt. But truly before God this house, which the Lord left in His day as “their house” and “desolate” indeed, will then be Satan’s house beyond any other on earth.
In chapter 16 we have these seven Bowls poured out. It is not now “the third” as under the Trumpets, with which the analogy is close; there is no restriction to the western sphere of Rome. The whole apostate region is smitten, and with yet more severity. “And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go and pour out the seven bowls of the fury of God unto the earth. And the first went, and poured out his bowl unto the earth, and it became an evil and grievous sore upon the men that had the mark of the beast, and those that did homage to his image.” Here it is God’s hand smiting with utter pain the men who were either slaves or worshippers of the Beast, though it resembled the plagues on Egypt, not yet the destruction in the Red Sea.
“And the second poured his bowl into the sea; and it became blood as of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.” The infliction here fell on the unsettled and revolutionary state outside “the earth” of the preceding stroke. Spiritual rather than physical death is meant.
Then follows another stroke. “And the third poured out his bowl into the rivers and the fountains of the waters; and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying, Righteous art thou that art, and wast, the holy (or, gracious) One, because thou didst thus judge; because they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and thou gavest them blood to drink: they are worthy. And I heard the altar saying, Yea, Lord God the Almighty, true and righteous [are] thy judgments.” The moral character and springs on which men think and act become deadly; and this in retribution for the heartless cruelty of Christendom, as at that time also, toward saints and prophets. For God does not forget such ways, however concealed afterwards under tombs, and statues, and titles of pretended honour, since their death.
“And the fourth poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. And the men were burnt with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, that had the authority over these plagues, and did not repent to give him glory.” Here it is not the sun, moon, and stars in accord with the great earthquake of the sixth Seal; nor yet their third part darkened as at the fourth Trumpet; but the supreme governing power scorching men beyond endurance. Yet men blaspheme God’s name all the more in the hardness of their impenitent hearts.
There is the usual order, as we have seen in the other series of seven judgments: four, and then three to follow. All the different departments of nature, whatever may be symbolised by them (and their meaning seems neither indeterminate nor obscure) were to be visited by the Bowls of God’s fury.
The three later Bowls, like the three Woe-trumpets, come to the closest quarters with men, and ever more and more unsparing.
The fifth angel poured out his Bowl on the throne of the Beast. It is clear therefore that we have here a Gentile sphere before us, which fits in with the prefatory scene. “The fifth angel poured out his bowl upon the throne of the beast; and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven for their pains and for their sores, and repented not of their works” Assuredly this does not agree with the imaginary picture some Futurists have painted of the Beast’s kingdom; any more than some poets conceive of Satan reigning in hell. We can readily presume that he held out Elysian fields as a bait to his subjects; but on his kingdom darkness fell, and his people gnawed their tongues in their blasphemy against the God of heaven.
Thence we are transported to the east. “And the sixth angel poured out his bowl upon the great river Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way of the kings [that] are from the sun-rising might be prepared.” The Euphrates was the old boundary that separated the empire on its oriental frontiers from the vast hordes of uncivilised north-eastern nations destined to come into conflict with the powers of the west in the latter day. Thus the way is made plain for them to come forward and enter into the final struggle. This seems to be what the drying up of the great river means. What a striking proof of the orderly structure of the book it is, that here in the sixth Bowl occurs a parenthesis, as we saw at the same point of the sixth Seal and of the sixth Trumpet!
“And I saw out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are the spirits of demons, working signs, which go forth unto the kings (not ‘of the earth and’) of the whole habitable world, to gather them to the war of the great day of God the Almighty.” The three unclean spirits express the hatred of the dragon as the personal enemy of Christ, of the resurrection Beast from the pit or the revived Roman empire, and of the false prophet or Antichrist in the land. There is about to be a universal uprising and fight to the death between the east and the west. But the Lord has designs which neither side knows or regards, and He is no indifferent spectator. “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And they (or, he) gathered them together unto the place called in the Hebrew tongue Harmagedon.” Compare Judges 5:19, 20. From verses 13 to 16 is the parenthesis in this septenary, as always.
Here it may be seasonable to point out the difference, in principle as in fact, which distinguishes the first act in the Lord’s coming again for the heavenly saints, from the second which applies to Israel and the earth. We are to be caught up to meet Him who will present us in the Father’s house. The godly Jews in the day of His appearing are to be delivered at what seems to be the last gasp by His destruction of their Gentile foes and of their own apostate brethren, when He descends to establish the kingdom in power and glory over all the earth.
Lastly comes the seventh angel, who deals with the world still more decidedly and universally by pouring out on the air. “And the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of the heaven, from the throne, saying, It is come. And there were lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and there was a great earthquake,” not only vast but unexampled, “such as was not since men were on the earth, such an earthquake, so great.” Clearly therefore judgment from heaven becomes yet more crushing in its blows on man here below. For the Bowl was poured on that which acts immediately on all here below, and is most essential to health and life.
“And the great city came (
ἐγένετο) into three parts; and the cities of the nations fell; and great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. And every island fled, and mountains were not found. And a great hail as of a talent-weight cometh down out of the heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the stroke of the hail, for its stroke is exceeding great.” “The great city” is civilisation in its general extent, and is distinguished from “the cities of the nations” (that is, of the nations outside “the great city”) that fell in their local centres; but “great Babylon” is envenomed by that implacable cruelty which is inseparable from worldly religion, its corruption and idolatries. God did not forget her course who had long departed from His grace and truth. This enables us to put the warning of the fall of Babylon into its true place in the sevenfold series of God’s dealings in Rev. 14. The end of chap. 16 brings us there, but goes no farther. It stops short of the Lord’s appearing. None of these varied intimations could be spared without loss, though the hasty mind of man may count them strange and disorderly.
11 The true reading is uncertain, as it turns on a letter easily added or dropped. The three best uncials, two cursives, and most of the ancient versions support the third person; BP, the mass of cursives, the Memph., etc., the first person. Here Tisch. even in his last edition yields to the weight of the internal grounds in deciding for the latter.