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The Water and the Tree of Life; the Service and the Kingdom of God’s Servants. Chap. 22 vv. 1 5
1. pure ] Should be omitted.
river of water of life ] See 7:17, 21:6.
clear ] Bright would perhaps be more accurate.
proceeding out of the throne &c.] In Ezekiel’s vision (chap. 47) the River proceeded out of the Temple, here out of the Temple’s antitype. We are also meant to think of the River that watered the ancient paradise, Genesis 2:10 , and of such parallels to Ezekiel’s vision as Psalms 46:4 , 65:9; Zechariah 14:8 . The original type, of which these Prophecies are developments, is the fact that there was a natural spring, that of Siloam, in the precincts of the Temple at Jerusalem. We are not told here, as in the old Paradise, that the River is fourfold: but if the City stands on a pyramidal mountain (see on 21:16) it is likely enough that there is a stream running down each of its four faces, the throne which is the source being at the summit.
2. In the midst … of the river ] The picture is, almost certainly, that the river runs along the broad high-street or piazza (see on 11:8, 21:21, and note that, if the mountain be pyramidal, the “street” is cruciform), and rows or plantations, all of the one tree, stand along the banks on either side. But the exact construction and punctuation is not quite certain: that assumed in the A. V. is not very likely. Either we may punctuate as the Revised Version, connecting “in the midst of the street thereof” with the preceding sentence, or else we should probably translate, “Midway between the street of it and the river, on this side and on that:” i.e. there is a “street” or boulevard on each side of the river, and parted from the river by a sort of quay, in the midst of which is a row of the trees. It can hardly be meant that there is a single plant of the tree, as in the old Paradise (Genesis 2:9 ), for how could one tree grow “on this side and on that of the river?” and the words would hardly bear the sense “in the midst of the street thereof and of the river, with them running on this side and on that of it .” It would be awkward to represent the tree as growing in the midst of the river: and though there is a difference between this Paradise and the old in the multiplication of the tree, it is all, as it should be, in favour of the new.
the tree of life ] Genesis 2:9 , cp. chap. 2:7; where the likeness, not the difference, between the arrangement of this Paradise and the old is brought out.
every month ] Yet there can hardly be months and years when there is no moon nor sun. It is not, however, certain that this is the case here: see on 21:23. But the real meaning is, that the fruit is always in season, and never cloys.
and the leaves … healing ] Ezekiel 47:12 .
the nations ] Those outside the city: see on 21:24. This is perhaps the only passage in Scripture which suggests that, even after the Day of Judgement , there may be a process of purification for those whom that Day finds in a state of salvation, but imperfectly sanctified. But though it cannot be denied that this passage suggests this, it would be very rash to say that it proves it. It is quite possible that it is only at their first admission to the new earth that “the nations” have any need of “healing.” Surely no one can doubt, that this need will be felt by almost all, perhaps by all, who are saved at the last. Even if they were what we rightly account to be saints on earth they need a “healing” of their surviving sins before they are fit for heaven. They may receive this at the moment of death, as most Protestants suppose, or between death and judgement, as (in different forms) was supposed by some of the fathers and by the modern Roman Church. But apparently the oldest belief was that the work would be done at the moment of Judgement; see Comm. on 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 : and this passage is quite in harmony with that view.
3. no more curse ] The word for “curse” is rather peculiar; it is no doubt meant as a translation of that rendered “utter destruction” in Zechariah 14:11 , of which this verse is a reminiscence.
the throne &c.] Implied already in 21:23 and v. 1. Interpreters compare the last words of Ezekiel cognate prophecy.
his servants ] Note the singular pronoun, implying the Unity of the Persons named.
shall serve him ] See 7:15, and note there.
4. shall see his face ] This is the locus classicus for what constitutes the blessedness of heaven, the “Beatific Vision.” It is intimated in Job 19:26 and in Isaiah 52:8 , where there may be an allusion to the privilege of Moses, Exodus 33:11 ; Numbers 12:8 ; Deuteronomy 34:10 . In the last verse of Psalms 17:0 it may be questioned whether the final and immediate vision, or an earthly foretaste, is intended; but Job 42:5 , Job 42:6 ; Isaiah 6:5 shew that it is only to “the spirits of just men made perfect” that the vision is endurable. In the N. T. we have the promise in St Matthew 5:8 ; 1 Corinthians 13:12 ; St John’s I Ep. 3:2.
his name [shall be] in their foreheads ] So in 14:1, where, according to the true text, we see that “ His ” still means the Name of God, both the Father and the Son.
5. there ] Read, any more . See 21:25.
they need no candle &c.] Read, they have no need of light of lamp, neither of light of sun .
giveth them light ] Read, shall give light upon them . Here end the visions.
The Confirmation of the Promise; the Error of the Seer, vv. 6 11
6. And he said unto me ] Who speaks? the angel of 21:9, or “He that sitteth upon the throne,” as in 21:5 8, or Christ as in v. 16? Probably, an angel speaks in the name of Christ: and this leads St John to fancy, as once before, that the angel is himself a divine person.
These sayings ] Better, words the phrase (except that the copula “are” is not expressed) is verbatim the same as in 21:5.
of the holy prophets ] Read, of the spirits of the prophets : for the phrase, cf. 1 Corinthians 14:32 .
to shew unto his servants &c.] 1:1.
7. Behold ] Read, And behold .
I come quickly ] Spoken no doubt in the name of Christ, though hardly by Him. Cf. 3:11, and vv. 12, 20.
blessed is he that keepeth &c.] 1:3. “Sayings” should again be words , as in the parallel passage.
8. And I John saw &c.] Lit. and I John [ am ] he that saw and heard (or “heard and saw”) these things . It is possible to connect these words with the immediately preceding sentence, regarding it, not as a continuation of the angel’s speech, but as the beginning of St John’s reflexion, “Blessed is he that keepeth the words, &c., and [blessed am] I John, who see and hear these things.” It was so understood by St Dionysius of Alexandria in the third century, and this construction is the easiest and smoothest grammatically. But few modern commentators accept this view: it seems inappropriate to the context.
I fell down to worship ] As at 19:10. Some suppose that St John is here repeating his statement of what he did then, but it is far more natural to understand that he did the same again. The words “I come quickly” would even more naturally lead him to think that this angel was “He that is to come,” than the words of that angel (who may or may not have been the same as this) led him to think that he was the God Whose “true sayings” he communicated.
9. for ] should be omitted.
thy brethren the prophets ] It has been recognised in vv. 6, 7, that St John is a prophet, and shares in the special blessedness given to prophets. But at the same time “they which keep the words of this book,” though not prophets, share that blessedness with them. St Matthew 10:41 implies the same, though the form of statement is somewhat different.
10. he saith ] Still, probably, the same angel. He speaks still more unmistakeably in Christ’s person, now that St John understands beyond mistake that he is not Christ Himself.
Seal not &c.] Pointedly contrasted with Daniel 12:4 , Daniel 12:9 . In Daniel’s time, both the coming of Antichrist and the deliverance from him were far off: Daniel was bidden to write what he saw and heard, but not to make it public, for it would be unintelligible till long after his own generation: at least till the typical persecution of Antiochus, and the typical day of vengeance and deliverance of the Maccabees. But to St John’s readers, all was to be as plain as an unfulfilled prophecy ever can be: except one detail (10:4) the whole vision is to be laid before the Church. It may be meant further, that the typical persecution of Nero was already within the Church’s experience, and that its typical revival under Domitian was to fall within the present generation.
for the time is at hand ] So 1:3. Besides the fact that partial and typical fulfilments were nearer to St John’s age than to Daniel’s, it is intimated that the same age, the same dispensation under which St John and his readers lived was to last till the time of the end; while the Jewish age in which Daniel lived passed away long before the end. For in mere chronology the difference is slight: from St John’s day to the end is, as we know, more than 1800 years, and from Daniel’s more than 2400: in comparison with the longer period, the shorter can hardly be spoken of as short.
11. He that is unjust &c.] The sense is generally understood to be, “The time is so short, that it is too late to change: for good or evil, you must go on as you are;” a solemn and terrible irony, like “Sleep on now, and take your rest,” to the Disciples who had missed their opportunity. As that was followed by “Rise, let us be going,” so there is nothing inconsistent with this in the Church continuing to preach repentance to the unjust and the filthy. But in the Epistle of the Churches of Gaul (Eus. H. E. v. i. 53) the passage is quoted (not quite accurately, it is true) as though the sense were, ‘Let the unrighteous do more unrighteousness” &c.; a possible rendering of the Greek. Then the sense will be, that the world “must be worse before it is better” that sin must come to its height, in order that the righteous may be made perfect. For “unjust” it would be better to render “unrighteous,” or else “just” for “righteous” below, as the two words are the exact opposites of each other.
be righteous ] Read, do righteousness .
be holy ] More literally, be sanctified .
The Witness of the Lord, vv. 12 16
12. I come quickly ] Of course He Who “comes” is the Lord Jesus: but we are probably not to imagine that He is personally present the angel still speaks in His name.
my reward is with me ] Isaiah 40:10 , Isaiah 62:11 .
to give every man ] Better, to render to every man . The source of the expression is in Job 34:11 ; Ps. 42:12. In the N. T. this retribution is ascribed to God in Romans 2:6 , to the Son in His own words in St Matthew 16:27 .
shall be ] Read, is .
13. I am Alpha &c.] So 1:8 (not 11). There the Father speaks, here the Son.
the beginning &c.] The true order seems to be the first and the last, the beginning and the end .
14. that do his commandments ] Read, that wash their robes : cf. 7:14. The change from one reading to the other is in the Greek only one of a few letters; it seems uncalled for to charge the copyists who introduced the received reading with a wish to substitute justification by works for justification by faith. There are plenty of Scriptural parallels for the sentence, read either way: but there seems to be no doubt which way St John in fact wrote it.
that they may have right ] Lit. that the right (or power , or license ) may be theirs . The right of approaching the Tree of Life is a definite privilege, granted to a certain class, viz. those who “wash their robes.”
15. For ] should be omitted.
dogs &c.] The articles should be expressed, “ the dogs, and the sorcerers (see on 9:21, 21:8), and the fornicators, and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone that loveth &c.”
maketh ] Or doeth : the word is the same as in St John’s I Ep. 1:6. To do the truth or a lie is a great deal more, for good or evil, than merely to say it. In that passage, the false Christian’s falsehood lies altogether in what he does, not in the privileges he claims, which would be truly his, if not belied by his life.
16. I Jesus ] Here only does our Lord reveal His Name, though from 1:13, 18 onwards, it has been obvious that He is the revealer; as was expressed in the title, 1:1. Whether He is personally present, however, is doubtful: the words are His, but it is probably still the angel that speaks them.
mine angel ] Would our Lord say this of any angel of the Lord, because “all things that the Father hath are His.” Or has our Lord, as Man, an angel of His own in the same way that His saints have? St Luke 22:43 seems as if He needed and had, in the days of His flesh, such angelic guardianship as is implied in St Matthew 18:10 : and this passage is at least consistent with the view, that His angel appears in His form, as St Peter’s was supposed to do, Acts 12:15 . It is very ably argued by St Augustine ( de Cura pro Mortuis ), that if any apparitions after death or at the moment of death are really objective and supernatural, they must be ascribed to angels, not to the spirits of the dead. But we must remember that our Lord’s state is not the same as that of His departed servants. He is already in the body of the Resurrection, and so conceivably visible. And there can be no doubt that He appeared in His own risen body to St Paul, and probably to St Stephen. It may be, therefore, that He now appears personally to St John, at once superseding and authenticating the previous ministry of the angel.
the root and the offspring of David ] He bears the former title in 5:5, where see note. The latter is substantially the same as the familiar one, “the Son of David.”
and the bright and morning star ] Both “and”s should be omitted. There may be a reference to Numbers 24:17 , or to the title of “the Day-spring,” St Luke 1:78 , and perhaps Zechariah 3:8 , Zechariah 6:12 . In 2:28, though the words are more nearly the same as here, the sense is different: see note there.
The Spirit and the Bride, v. 17
17. And the Spirit &c.] “The Bride” is, it is here implied, the Church on earth, imploring her Lord about to come to her. But the Bride throughout this book has been the perfect or heavenly Church; notice the identification of the Church in both states. Notice also the identity of St Paul’s doctrine, and in part of his imagery, Galatians 4:26 : Ephesians 5:25 sqq. “The Spirit” is, as in Romans 8:26 , the Spirit dwelling in or inspiring the faithful: the Spirit says, “Come!” when He teaches the Bride to say it.
Come ] The word is (in the true text) the same here as in 6:1, 3, 5, 7.
let him that heareth say, Come ] The prayers of the Church are prayed, not preached; yet they do serve for instruction to those who only “hear” them: by hearing they are educated to join in them. Cf. Colossians 3:16 .
let him that is athirst ] Isaiah 55:1 .
come ] Correlative to the “coming” of Christ to us is our “coming” to Him. The invocation “Come!” in the earlier clauses is certainly addressed to Him, so that this does not express the answer to it. But it is evident (even more evident in the Greek than in the English) that the thought is present of the one coming being correlative to the other. We come to Christ, that we may learn to “love His appearing,” and be able to cry to Him “Come,” instead of fearing it.
and whosoever &c.] Omit “and”: the last clause of the verse is rather explanatory of the preceding one than coordinate with it.
freely ] i.e. “without money and without price:” see on 21:6.
The final Testimony of the Seer and his Benediction, vv. 18 21
18. For I testify ] Omit “for.”
If any man shall add &c.] Deuteronomy 4:2 , Deuteronomy 12:32 . The parallel of those passages proves, that the curse denounced is on those who interpolate unauthorised doctrines in the prophecy, or who neglect essential ones; not on transcribers who might unadvisedly interpolate or omit something in the true text. The curse, if understood in the latter sense, has been remarkably ineffective, for the common text of this book is more corrupt, and the true text oftener doubtful, than in any other part of the N. T. But it may be feared that additions and omissions in the more serious sense have also been frequently made by rash interpreters. It is certain that the curse is designed to guard the integrity of this Book of the Revelation, not to close the N. T. canon. It is not even certain that this was the last written of the canonical books.
unto these things] Better simply unto them : an unemphatic pronoun being used. Though it cannot grammatically refer to “the words of the prophecy,” i.e. it no doubt does so refer ungrammatically.
19. out of the book of life ] Read from the tree of life .
and from &c.] “and” should be omitted, the sense being, “from the Tree of Life, out of the Holy City, in short, from all the good things written &c.”
20. Surely ] The word is that rendered Even so in 1:7, and in the next clause here, and which might be better rendered Yea . It should be omitted in the next clause, so that the whole will read, “He that testifieth these things saith, ‘Yea [in answer to the prayers of v. 17] I come quickly.’ Amen: come, Lord Jesus.
21. our Lord Jesus Christ ] Read only, the Lord Jesus .
with you all ] We should read either only with all , or more probably with the saints . Many authorities omit “Amen” here, as after the benedictions ending many of St Paul’s Epistles.
The Angels of the Churches: Elemental Angels: the Living Creatures
There are two views of the angels of the Churches. According to one they are simply the bishops of the Churches; according to the other they are superhuman beings standing in some intimate relation to the Churches: more intimate than the relation to Nature of the angels who hold the four winds, 7:1, the angel who hath power over the fire, 14:18, and presumably the angel of the waters, 16:5. The first view, which at present is perhaps the most widely received, rests upon the following considerations. In Haggai 1:13 the prophet, in Malachi 2:7 the priest is ‘the angel of “the Lord,” ’ and it is generally agreed (see note in Cambridge Bible for Schools, ad loc. ) that ‘the angel,’ Ecclesiastes 5:6 , means simply the priest. Hence as in St Ignatius the bishop is always the chief minister of the Christian Sacrifice it might seem that he is a priest and mystically an ‘angel.’ Again, as Westcott and Hort, ad loc. Greek Testament, 2:137, point out, there is an analogy between what we may call the ‘style and title’ of the ‘angels’ and the style and title of the pagan high-priests of Asia. Moreover, if Jezebel be the wife of the ‘angel’ in Thyatira he must be a man, as she is a woman. No inference can be drawn from the name, which in Greek would be the same as ‘angel,’ of an officer in the synagogue who may have been established in St John’s time: for he was in no sense a ruler; in the Christian hierarchy he corresponded to an acolyte, not to a bishop.
The great difficulty in the way of this view is that the ‘angels’ seem to be more completely identified with the Churches than human bishops can be: take for instance the messages to Sardis or Laodicea, can we suppose that the Church had all the faults of the bishop or the bishop all the faults of the Church? Take even the message to Ephesus: can we suppose that the fervour of the Church and the bishop has been declining pari passu for exactly the same time? Nor can we infer from the way in which Old Testament saints from Jeremiah to Nehemiah confess the sins of their people as if they were their own, nor even from Isaiah 53:6 that the Lord lays the iniquity of the Church upon the bishop as a matter of course. Again, the seven candlesticks are the seven Churches, the seven stars are the ‘angels.’ One would expect an impenitent bishop to perish with his Church, yet the threat to the ‘angel’ at Ephesus is ‘except thou repent I will take away thy candlestick,’ not ‘I will cast thee out of My hand.’ This cannot be pressed: both the threat and the counsel to the ‘angel’ at Laodicea suggest a human rather than a superhuman recipient, though the former at least must be metaphorical. It is rather an evasion than a solution to regard the ‘angels’ as mere personifications of the prevailing spirit of the Churches: such a view would be at bottom unreal and unmeaning, but on the surface it has fewer difficulties than either the view that the ‘angels’ are human bishops, or that they are perfect, blessed, faultless spirits charged with the oversight of communities which may be imperfect, faulty, miserable. This view indeed depends entirely upon a doctrine of angels which perhaps would only be found in Holy Scripture by readers who bring it there with them. Those who were praying in the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, clearly believed that Peter’s angel would speak with Peter’s voice: did they believe that he was, so to speak, a heavenly double of Peter who came into the world with him? It is important to remember that they were familiar with the whole body of thought at which we have to guess mainly from the incidental notices and hints of sacred writers who appear in some measure to share, and therefore to sanction, the beliefs of their own day. While the ‘little ones’ keep their innocency their ‘angels’ see the Father’s face. When they seek out many inventions it may be that their ‘angels’ are charged ‘with folly’ because they too have failed to keep ‘the first estate.’ Again in Ezekiel 28:11-19 , we seem to have a prophecy against the superhuman ‘king of Tyrus,’ parallel to the prophecy in 28:1 10 against the human prince who thinks himself God. If so, the ‘king of Tyrus,’ who for all his superhuman attributes is to perish with the city with which he has been created, must be something like the ‘spiritual form’ of the city, a spirit with a personality of his own, yet wise with its wisdom, rich with its wealth, proud with its pride. The book of Daniel gives us no reason to think that the ‘princes’ of Persia and of Grecia belong to a higher order. If there be such spirits of nations, certainly it is simplest to think that the ‘angels’ stand in the same relation to ‘Churches,’ in the eternal order of grace and glory, as that in which ‘princes’ stand to nations, in the temporal order of secular providence. But since the time of St Victorinus no interpreter has ventured to maintain that elect angels can have real need of repentance as the ‘angels’ of the churches certainly have.
In the Old Testament angels seem to be identified in some sense with stars, e.g. Job 4:18 , 25:3, Job 4:5 ; and with fire and wind, Psalms 104:4 ; and Longfellow’s lines:
‘The angels of wind and of fire
Breathe each but one song and expire.’
are true to one aspect of Rabbinical speculation in which angels seem to forestall the ‘metaphysical’ conception of ‘forces.’ There is no trace that either line of thought influenced the seer of Patmos. The elemental angels, so to call them, are apparently pure spirits, who neither impart their characters to what they act upon nor are influenced in their own character by the sphere of their action. The angel of the waters no more suffers loss when they who are worthy have blood given them to drink than the angels who withhold the four winds from blowing. Still the energy of the material universe seems like the giving of the law to be committed to the disposition of angels. So far as this goes we might suppose that even the Angel of the Bottomless Pit was like the evil angels of Psalms 78:49 , a not unwilling minister of God’s anger, but unless he is the same as the fallen star he is himself a prisoner in the Pit with those over whom he rules; in this he is like the four angels bound in the river Euphrates, who also are held ready to execute a work of vengeance at a time appointed. It may be added that though the writer of the Ascent of Isaiah 10:8 , who seems to imitate this passage, distinguishes the ‘angel who is in hell’ from ‘Destruction,’ i.e. ‘Abaddon,’ he clearly assumes that hell is the permanent dwelling of the angel.
The four living creatures certainly correspond to the cherubim in Ezekiel. The resemblances outweigh the differences, and it is to be supposed that St John, like Ezekiel, could only see the ‘appearance’ of spiritual forms. The throne in his vision is immoveable: it reminds us not of Him Who bowed the heavens and came down, but of the Father of Lights without variableness or shadow of turning. Instead of wheels full of eyes the living creatures are full of eyes themselves. If the eyes are stars, we might say that if the cherubim in Ezekiel are spirits in a sense, of the storm, the living creatures are spirits of constellations, the true power behind the starry shapes that men have traced in the sky. The two do not exclude each other. Heavenly princes of the east, of the west, of the north, of the south, might be manifested in vision under either shape.
The four riders who appear one by one as each of the first four seals is opened recall not only sword, famine and pestilence among the four sore judgements in Ezekiel, but the four chariots in Zechariah, which seem expressly identified with the four winds. This makes it more remarkable that the four living creatures cry ‘Come,’ one by one, before the riders appear. The riders come (? from the four ends of heaven) in answer to this cry, even if we suppose that in its deepest meaning the cry is for the coming of the Judge Himself, Whose heralds all judgements are.
In Daniel the four beasts who symbolise the four kingdoms are raised up by the strife of the four winds upon the great deep, as if the first thing shewed to the prophet was four world-wide kingdoms, each arising from one of the four ends of the earth. As all four are in rebellion against the Ancient of Days, Who allows no dominion but the fifth monarchy of one like unto the Son of Man, we cannot follow the Jewish speculation which finds an anticipation of Daniel in Ezekiel, and identifies his living creatures with the four empires, the Persian having the face of a man because it dealt favourably with Israel. Both in Ezekiel and in the Revelation we must assume that the living creatures are perfectly pure and holy.
Assuming the living creatures to be personal creatures and servants of God, the highest of His creatures, the most honoured of His servants, it becomes less important to determine what is meant by their several forms, though it be admitted that they are symbolical. We need frame no exclusive theory of what suggested them or of what they were intended to suggest. Certainly the view that they represent creation will not bear pressing, even in the sense that they are manifested in forms borrowed from all creation, to shew that they act not only for themselves, but for all living creatures upon earth. It is not convincing in itself: the classification of creatures into men, wild beasts, tame beasts and birds, looks arbitrary not to say false, whether judged logically, zoologically, or in reference to the Biblical account of creation: if it were certain that the Jewish explanation of Ezekiel represented a settled tradition older than St John, it would of course tell in favour of applying it with most modern critics to the Revelation, but it does not seem to be older than the conjecture (quite inapplicable to the Revelation) that the four living creatures correspond to the standards of the fourfold host of Israel in the wilderness.
On the other hand there is no doubt that the view which regards the living creatures as symbolical of the Gospels is traditional in the best sense. It is at least as old as St Irenaeus, and it has been handed down ever since. It is true that there is no traditional agreement as to which living creature represents which Gospel. The tradition which ruled medieval and modern art does not go back beyond St Victorinus. According to him St Mark who begins with the voice crying in the wilderness is the roaring lion, St Matthew who begins with the descent of the Lord after the flesh is the man, St Luke who begins with the sacrifice of Zacharias is the ox, St John is the high flying eagle. St Augustin (who does not seem to know the view of St Victorinus), without committing himself to either thinks those more likely to be right who make Matthew the lion, Mark the man, Luke the calf, John the eagle, than those who make Matthew the man, Mark the eagle, and John the lion. This last is the arrangement of St Irenaeus, who like St Victorinus argues from the opening words (instead of as St Augustin thought better from the whole idea of the Gospel 1 1 Hence St Matthew is the lion, because his is the Gospel of the Kingdom of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. ); but instead of finding the lion’s voice in the opening of St Mark he finds the wings of prophecy, in St John he finds the royalty of the only Begotten of the Father. No one seems to have questioned that the sacrificial calf is the symbol of St Luke (though guessing a priori the third of the living creatures seems to symbolise the third evangelist at least as well), and this suggests that the identification rests on a real tradition. The assignment of the eagle to St John is certainly appropriate 2 2 See Keble’s ‘Hymn for St John’s Day,’ in Salisbury Hymnal , reprinted in Poems:
Word supreme before creation,
Born of God eternally,
Who didst will for our salvation
To be born on earth, and die;
Well Thy saints have kept their station,
Watching till Thine hour drew nigh.
Now ’tis come, and faith espies Thee,
Like an eaglet in the morn,
One in steadfast worship eyes Thee,
Thy belov’d, Thy latest born:
In Thy glory he descries Thee
Reigning from the tree of scorn. , if we could be sure that his gospel was written when he saw his vision; and that, if it were, the Four Gospels were as familiar to him as the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb. It might be safer to say that the four forms represent four elements of the highest excellence, which are embodied in Christ’s Kingdom, and His Sacrifice, His Humanity and His Union with the Father: if we will we may see in their number a hint at the reason why God’s Providence caused His Gospel to be transmitted to us just in four forms respectively devoted to the setting forth of each of these doctrines. As St Irenaeus says, Adn. Haer . III. xii., ‘the faces of the Cherubim are images of the operation of the Son of God: for the first living creature is like a lion signifying His energy and rule and royalty, the second like a calf manifesting His sacrificial and priestly ministry, the third having a face of a man most clearly describing His coming as Man, the fourth like a flying eagle declaring the gift of the Spirit lighting upon the Church.’ The next words are ambiguous; it is not clear whether it is the living creatures or the Gospels, whose voice accords with their nature, that are the throne of Christ. St Jerome is clearer. In his letter to Paullinus he calls the Gospels the chariot of the Lord and the true cherubim. He cannot be said to go too far. Before the Father was revealed in the Son, He made darkness His secret place and shewed Himself to prophets and psalmists wrapt in clouds and riding upon the wings of the wind: it is given to Christians to behold with open face in the fourfold Gospel the Throne of God and the Lamb, Who rides through the world, as St Augustin says, to subdue the nations to His easy yoke and His light burden.
On the Heresies controverted in the Revelation
The traditions about St John’s life in Asia Minor are unanimous, and the oldest and best authenticated traditions are not least clear or detailed, in the statement that the Apostle was engaged, not only in ordering the Church peaceably, in its internal constitution, but in controversy with heretics, who divided the Church’s unity and denied the faith which is its foundation. And in fact, in all St John’s Epistles (I. 2:18 24, 4:1 6, 2:7, 10, 3:9, 10) we have direct allusions to heretical or schismatical teachers, and St John’s own doctrine stated in a more or less controversial form: while large portions of the First Epistle, and some even of the Gospel (e. g. the introduction), become more intelligible if we see in them a tacit reference to the heresies which either denied or perverted the doctrines there stated.
Tradition and internal probability alike lead us to understand these controversies to be particularly concerned with the heresy of the Judaising Gnostic Cerinthus; which, in all probability, did not arise till near the close of St John’s life. Not the least of the arguments for referring the Revelation to an earlier date is this, that, while the controversial element in it is at least as large, the doctrines controverted are of a different and, apparently, of an earlier type.
The only sect mentioned by name is the Nicolaitan: and for the characteristics of this, the Apocalypse itself is our only quite unimpeachable authority. The Nicolaitans are indeed mentioned by St Irenaeus, and by later writers against heretics who used his works, apparently as still existing: but there is always some uncertainty in statements about the doctrines and practices of these secret and discreditable societies, and we cannot be sure how far St Irenaeus’ statements rest on independent evidence, how far on mere inference or conjecture from what is said of them in this Book.
In fact, he says little more than this Book does make plain that they were one of the Antinomian sects that arose in or beside the early Church, who claimed licence for sensual sin. There are two conceivable grounds on which they may have done so, neither directly supported by the evidence of the Apocalypse, but both intelligible historically, and traceable to causes that were really at work. They may, like the so-called Antinomians of modern times, have pressed St Paul’s doctrine of the freedom of Christians from the Law into an assertion of the indifference, to the spiritual, of all outward actions: or they may have argued from the false spiritualism which regarded the flesh as essentially evil, and rejected the attempt to sanctify it.
What traditional evidence we have supports rather the latter view. St Clement of Alexandria a writer somewhat later than St Irenaeus, and less directly acquainted with the main stream of Johannine tradition in Asia Minor, but early enough to have received genuine traditions, and educated enough to know the difference between tradition and conjecture describes the sect as deriving their name from Nicolaus or Nicolas the Deacon (Acts 6:5 ). He adds, that Nicolas was not really responsible for their excesses, but that they abused in a sensual sense language which he used in an ascetic. Moreover he tells stories of Nicolas’ personal life, which do not sound like inventions, but rather like features of a real human character a man of strong passions and strong principles, willing, in his own words, “to do violence to the flesh”, but unable to conceive the higher ideal of “the flesh being subdued to the Spirit.”
In fact, there seems no doubt that this representation of the relation of Nicolas and the Nicolaitans is at least ideally true. There were in the later apostolic age at least as early as the Epistle to the Colossians ascetic teachers, who preached bodily mortification as the one and the indispensable condition of holiness and spiritual progress, and regarded the indulgence of any bodily appetite as almost necessarily sinful. The characters of such men are often as austere as their theories, and command a half-reluctant respect, which not infrequently commends the theories to aspirants after purity, better than a more willing assent might do. On the other hand, not infrequently even the leaders and teachers, however sincere in their theories and professions, break down in the attempt
“to wind themselves too high
For sinful man beneath the sky,”
and fall into the very carnal sins, for fear of which they have condemned the most innocent carnal indulgences. And if this is not the case with the leaders, it is almost always with their followers, sooner or later. Either their austere theories and practice provoke a reaction, and men boldly assert everything, and do everything, that is most opposed to what they have taught and done: or their followers deduce from their principles (as it is said happened with Nicolas) an indifference to all moral rules. It is said that it is necessarily sinful to indulge the flesh: now human life cannot be sustained without some indulgence of the flesh, at least in food and drink. It follows, that fleshly sin is inevitable: if then spiritual perfection is attainable, it must be because fleshly sin is no obstacle to it. Consequently, it ceases to be worth while to minimise fleshly sin, as the ascetics did: the true conclusion (certainly the most agreeable to corrupt human nature) will be, to let the flesh go its own sinful way, while the spirit pursues its own path to what is regarded as perfection.
It thus seems likely enough that the traditions describing the Nicolaitans as teaching the moral indifference of carnal acts are to be trusted; and that the sect grew up without any direct connexion with the controversy about the obligation of the Law upon the consciences of Christians. No doubt, as the Epistle to the Colossians shews, the mystical and ascetic theory of life had an affinity to one side of Judaism, and there were Jewish sects or schools that held it: but it does not appear that St John’s controversy with the Nicolaitans was directly connected with the controversies which we hear of in the life of St Paul. It must be remembered that Nicolas the Deacon, if he were in any sense the founder of the sect, was not a Jew by birth. But we seem, in the early chapters of the Apocalypse, to find traces of another controversy, perhaps less vital in its issues, perhaps one of which the danger was over at the date of the vision, which may more probably be identified with that between St Paul and the Judaizers. At Ephesus we hear of them “who say that they are Apostles and are not,” and at Smyrna and Philadelphia of “them who say that they are Jews, and are not:” and these designations certainly suggest to our minds men like St Paul’s Jewish opponents, “false Apostles”, in his own words, “transforming themselves into the Apostles of Christ.” And the developement of this party, or some party like them, in the district round Ephesus is foretold by St Paul in Acts 20:29 , and mentioned historically in 2 Timothy 1:15 : now if the Apocalypse was written only five or six years after the last, it is likely enough that in the Church of Ephesus, particularly, their memory would be fresh, yet the immediate danger from them be over, in the way implied in the Apocalypse.
And no doubt, what is said of the false Jews at Philadelphia, and perhaps at Smyrna, does suggest that the contrast is between the true Jews who saw the Law fulfilled in the Gospel, and owned all believers in the Gospel as brethren, and those who lost their right to the name of Jews by insisting on the exclusive rights of the old Judaism. So far, St John (or He Whose words he reports) condemns the same spirit as St Paul, though it is doubful how far the controversy is with Judaism as something external to Christianity, how far with Jewish pretensions within the Christian Church. But while the false Apostles at Ephesus were plainly professing Christians, we learn nothing as to the nature of their false teaching or the ground of their false claims. They may just as well have been antinomians as Judaizers: and, as they seem plainly distinguished from the Nicolaitans, their antinomianism may have rested on ultra-Pauline rather than on dualistic reasoning.
This possibility is the utmost that can reasonably be conceded towards the view propounded by Baur and his school, and retained and popularized by Renan, that most of the controversy in the Apocalypse is directed against St Paul himself. Not only is he himself the false Apostle whom the Church at Ephesus is praised for rejecting, but his followers are identified at once with the false Jews and with the Nicolaitans, and he or his doctrine or his school with the Jezebel of Thyatira. Arbitrary as this theory is, no less than shocking to our feelings of Christian reverence, it seems necessary to refute what has been advocated with such confidence, and by writers of such reputation. The one point common to St Paul with “Jezebel” and the Nicolaitans is, that while they “taught and seduced Christ’s servants to eat things offered to idols, and to commit fornication,” St Paul did not teach that it was absolutely and in all cases unlawful to eat meat that might possibly have formed part of an idol sacrifice: and that he regarded marriages between a Christian and a heathen as lawful, at least in some cases. Now it is quite possible, that some Christian teachers in St Paul’s day might (on the former point at least) have held more rigorous views than his: in fact, more rigorous views did practically prevail in the Church after the Apostolic age: but it is absurd to imagine that any one could charge him with extreme laxity on either point. On the former, he not only taught that the liberty secured by the knowledge “that an idol is nothing in the world,” and “that nothing is unclean in itself,” was not to be exercised without regard to the prejudices or scruples of others (1 Corinthians 8:9-13 , 1 Corinthians 10:28 sq.; Romans 14:14 &c.); but also, that to “sit at meat in the idol’s temple,” at the actual sacrificial feast, was a real act of “communion with devils” (1 Corinthians 8:10 , 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 ). It might be superstition to think that an idol was a real devil: but the “weak brother” who thought so was right on the practical point, that idol-worship was devil-worship, and that sharing in a sacrificial feast was an act of worship, whether the feast and the worship were Jewish, Christian, or heathen. Moreover, in his discussion of the question he refers (1 Corinthians 10:8 ), as St John does, to the sin into which Israel was led by Balaam.
And if on this point it might be thought that some would have desired a more categorical prohibition than St Paul gave, as to fornication no one could desiderate more definite language than his. And it is absurd to suppose that the word is used in different senses. When the thing itself was so common as everyone knows it to have been in that age when it was so hard as St Paul found it to keep the infant Church pure from it it is incredible that St John, or the Church of Jerusalem (Acts 15:20 , Acts 15:29 ), should have wasted their indignation on lawful and honourable marriages, even if not such as they altogether approved. St Paul himself, while recognising marriage with a heathen as valid and sacred, when already contracted before the conversion of one party (1 Corinthians 7:13 , 1 Corinthians 7:14 ), and as binding on the Christian so long as respected by the other, did not approve of a Christian contracting a fresh one (ib. 39, 2 Corinthians 6:14 ).
Unlike as the Apocalypse is to St Paul’s writings in style and manner, we shall find in it not infrequent occurrence of ideas supposed to be characteristically Pauline, and one or two probable references (see notes on 18:20, 20:4) to St Paul himself. These are worthy of study, not for controversial purposes only. But to the school of critics who suppose St Paul’s dispute with St Peter (Galatians 2:11 sqq.) to have been bitter and lifelong, and the former to have been repudiated by the Twelve and by the main body of the Church, it is a sufficient reply to ask, “If Christ were divided against Himself, how did His Kingdom stand?”
On the supposed Jewish Origin of the Revelation of St John
Perhaps it is most candid to begin with the confession, that I approached the study of Vischer’s theory of the origin of the Apocalypse with a strong prejudice against it, and a conscious reluctance to admit its truth. Such a prejudice, in fact, is likely to be very general, for two reasons. Professor Harnack confesses, that he himself felt one that, when commentators have laboured over a book for 17 centuries, it is a priori unlikely that their labours will be superseded, and the whole subject cleared up, by a single hint throwing a new light on the problem: and, to state the same thing from a lower point of view, when a man has himself laboured for years or decades on the subject, he is not willing to suppose all that labour to be superseded by the happy intuition of a young divinity student.
But there is another ground for reluctance to accept the theory, which one may feel more hesitation in sweeping aside as unworthy. The Revelation of St John as it stands is a sublime work, a work of high inspiration, whether its inspiration be understood in the strictly Christian or supernatural sense, or in the lax sense in which we apply the term to works of human genius. On purely literary grounds, we have the same prejudice against supposing that such a work can have grown by progressive additions and interpolations, that we have to the theory that the Iliad was made “by mere fortuitous concourse of old songs:” and the literary prejudice may very well be reinforced by a theological one, if we believe that the writer was not simply a writer of genius, but was, or at all events believed himself to be, a seer, the recipient of a God-given revelation of Jesus Christ.
And just as Mr Gladstone, or any other “conservative” writer on the Homeric question, is able to put his prejudice into the form of an argument, and shew, more or less convincingly, that the traditional view accounts for phenomena which are incredible on the revolutionary view, so here it would be easy to start from this prejudice as a basis for argument: to shew various characteristics that mark the Revelation as a real vision, not a free composition, or to argue that the differences of tone between various parts of it are due, not to differences in the human temper of the author or authors, but to the divine many-sidedness that comprehends at once all the aspects of everything.
I do not say that such an argument would be worthless: but it would be difficult to appreciate its value. What lies at the base of it is what those who share it will call an instinct, and those who do not a prejudice: the arguments that grow out of this will seem convincing to those who use them, even though they prove unconvincing to those to whom they are addressed. Their main strength lies, not in that which can be put in the shape of a formal argument, but in what cannot: and though there may be clear cases, where the instinct is so plainly sound that the statement of its verdict is convincing, I do not venture to think that the case of the Apocalypse is thus clear.
The real evidence in favour of Vischer’s view is this, that there are large sections of the Apocalypse where no distinctively Christian elements appear: that some of these, while in harmony with non-Christian Jewish opinions and hopes, are difficult to adjust with a Christian point of view: that the visions, as they stand in the present form of the book, do not present a continuously progressive story: and that a considerable number, both of the visions and of the isolated expressions which interrupt the narrative, are just the passages (sometimes the only passages in their neighbourhood) which are distinctively Christian. This last argument is one that Vischer seems to press rather too universally and rigorously: but there are at least a remarkable number of coincidences between the passages which the theory is obliged to mark as interpolations because they are Christian, and those which might independently be guessed to be so as out of harmony with their context. I do not, however, give very much weight to this last argument. If we suppose the whole Revelation to be a record of a vision really seen in ecstasy possibly written, in part at least 1 1 This is implied, or at least suggested, in 10:4 as well as 14:13 and other passages ascribed by Vischer to the Christian redactor. , during the ecstasy it is quite credible that the seer should have written a sentence like 16:15 when he heard or seemed to hear the words, though their connexion with what he is describing be remote and subjective: it is really harder to imagine a transcriber or translator interpolating them in the course of his narrative even if he believed them to be a revelation made to him.
But it will really be best, in judging what weight is to be given to these considerations, or what conclusions are to be drawn from them, to examine the structure of the Revelation itself; not attending to the arguments of Vischer or any other theorist in detail or for their own sake, but using them when they throw any light on the possible source or structure of the work, and accepting or rejecting them if the work in its turn throws a decisive light on their true worth and character.
The first three chapters, it is admitted on all hands, are in some sense separable from the rest, though not really independent of them. On the one hand, the work as we have it is the production of one writer: the peculiar style, language never wanting in vigour, subject to laws of its own, but those utterly different from the laws of ordinary Greek grammar, even in its most Hellenistic modification, are decisive proofs of this. But though the book is the work of one person, and forms a more or less harmonious work of art, there are parts of it that can be separated from the rest, and form in a sense wholes apart from the rest: and this is eminently the case with these chapters. They, it may be said, form a frame for the picture: the picture and the frame suit each other, and we have to decide, substantially, whether this is because the frame was designed by the original artist for the picture, or because the picture has been retouched to harmonise with the frame. The way to determine this will be, to confine our attention to the picture, and see if it shews signs of retouching.
Thus it will suffice for us to begin our examination of the book with the fourth chapter. From this point onwards, we have a series of visions prima facie successive, and symbolic of a series of events in chronological succession. We shall see whether this prima facie view is tenable: and if not, whether it breaks down in consequence of the various visions being independent of one another, or because they are designed to represent parallel and not successive series of events.
The introduction to this series of visions occupies the fourth and fifth chapters: and this introduction, the sublimest part of the whole book, and the most familiar to the Christian mind, seems to me absolutely to resist the disintegrating forces applied to it by Harnack and Vischer. Like Micaiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the author of the seventh chapter of Daniel, the Seer sees the Lord sitting on His Throne: as in Ezekiel’s vision, the throne is supported and surrounded 1 1 So I understand ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ θρόνου καὶ κύκλῳ τοῦ θρόνου. Their hinder parts are under the throne, reaching to its centre: their faces appear outside and beyond it probably at the four corners. The Lamb, when He appears, is ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ θρόνου καὶ τῶν τεσσάρων ζῴων i.e. proceeding from between the feet of Him That sitteth upon the throne, in the midst of the front of it. ἐν μέσῳ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων, in the centre of the circle (or semicircle) of the elders, is coordinate with this clause, not with either of its two members. by four living creatures, each one having six wings like Isaiah’s Seraphim, and like them repeating incessantly the Trisagion in praise of the Everlasting Lord of the Ineffable Name. Of course, this is all Old Testament imagery, and does not go beyond the range of Jewish ideas: but why should it? No Christian before Gnosticism had made some progress ever doubted that the Father of his Lord Jesus Christ was the eternal Lord God of Israel, Who had revealed Himself to Moses and the Prophets.
But in the next chapter we have distinctive Christian doctrine, indicated by imagery from which it is really impossible to eliminate the Christian element. Vischer admits that here (and, he says, here only) it is impossible to strike out a single sentence or paragraph, and leave the remaining passage to stand in continuous integrity when freed from interpolation. I go further, and venture to say that it is as arbitrary to attempt to eliminate the figure of the Lamb as it is impossible to exclude His action in the next chapter. Vischer and Harnack agree that, if this work be Jewish, “a Lamb standing as it had been slain,” can have had no original place in it: it can symbolise nothing or no one except “Him that liveth and was dead.” But they say it is impossible to do more than guess what stood originally in the Lamb’s place: they offer two guesses, but do not pretend that either is convincing. To me it seems absurd that either a lion or a human figure should be introduced with the attributes that the Lamb has here. The seven eyes are of course, like the rest of the imagery, taken from the Old Testament. from the seven “eyes of the Lord” mentioned in Zechariah: and I admit that it would take a skilful artist so to represent them as not to be grotesque. But they can be imagined without a shock to reverence: and I do not think a lion still less a man with seven horns can. Of course the Beast with seven heads and ten horns is grotesque enough, but no reverence is due to him. Our author be he Prophet, visionary, or compiler has too sound instincts, both literary and religious, to set a monster like either of these in the midst of the Throne of God.
A further question that appears worth asking is, what, on the view that we have here a work of Jewish origin, does the Opener of the seals symbolise? Apparently, still the Messiah: but what Messiah? The divinely sent but human Son of David is not yet born: if, therefore, the visions symbolise events in their chronological order (and on this assumption the theory largely rests), He Who opens the seals must be the pre-existent Messiah who thereby comes very near to the Messiah of Christian, even of Johannine or catholic, belief. I do not say that there is no possibility of explaining the figure by some conception within the range of Jewish thought. I am not prepared to say that no non-Christian Jew ever conceived the Messiah as pre-existing before His manifestation on earth. Still less do I know I am not sure if it can be known whether the conception of the Metatron, whose name is readily suggested by the description of “the Lamb in the midst of the Throne” was a conception already formulated in a Jewish school within the first century of the Christian era. We must leave these questions to specialists: only it must be said that these ideas, if they ever were entertained by Jews uninfluenced by Christianity, are ideas common to them with Christians. He Who opens the Book that lay in the hand of God is, substantially, identical with the eternal Son of God of Christian belief: the only Christian doctrine which can be blotted out of the picture without destroying it altogether is, that this eternal Son of God is the slain yet living Redeemer of mankind. And the doctrine of His Redemption is even harder to eliminate than that of His Death. We might cut out the two words ὡς ἐσφαγμένον , though there is no reason that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah should appear as a Lamb, except for the purpose of suffering a sacrificial, perhaps distinctively a paschal, death: but how are we to cut out the hymns that form the climax of the chapter? Before He has done anything that it will be news to the readers of this Apocalypse to hear of, He Who is in the midst of the Throne has already proved Himself “worthy” to do what He now does: He is already adorable, and adored by them that have their tabernacle in heaven. For if not, what? Here we have the climax of this inspired and inspiring work of art (to call it nothing higher): is it credible that the crowning stroke, the central feature, was put to it by the after-thought of an interpolator, in pursuance of a dogmatic purpose? I have tried to avoid treating the matter on mere grounds of taste or feeling: but it is impossible to believe the incredible. I can believe that the Iliad once ended without the burial of Hector, and once did not end with it: but I cannot believe that the Seer who described the hymn of the Living Creatures and the Elders to the Creator left it for a successor, and found a successor, to describe the hymn wherein the Redeemer and Revealer appears as coequal with Him. At least if it was so, St John’s inspiration was indeed miraculous.
Here we have the sublimest moment of the vision, its highest point as a mere work of art: but here we have not, evidently, its designed or even possible end. The exalted Lamb must now proceed to do the work which He has undertaken, “to open the book and the seven seals thereof:” the sixth chapter, and something like or in the place of the seventh, are necessary as a sequel to the fourth and fifth. And the sixth chapter is, as has often been pointed out, closely parallel to the Prophecy ascribed by all the Synoptic Gospels to the Lord Jesus, three days before He suffered. Since Vischer, and apparently Harnack, adopt the theory surely a very paradoxical one that this is itself a Jewish Apocalypse embodied in Christian tradition, the parallelism is no argument against their view: still it is at least as easily explained on the other. We have no need to explain the details of the vision to enquire whether the Rider on the white horse is the same Person as He Who has the same attributes in ch. 19, or what meaning the Seer may have attached to the passage in Zechariah which suggested the imagery to him. Neither need we discuss whether the Martyrs whose souls are poured out under the Altar are Jewish or Christian martyrs; the former view has been held by Christian interpreters, and if this proves that Vischer’s arguments are not without force, it also proves that their force may be felt without necessitating his conclusion. But when we come to the sixth seal, we have all admit an image of the state of things expected just before the consummation of all things, and the Advent of the Messiah to judgement. It may be that here we are still within the range of ideas common to Jews and Christians, it may be that the Seer, if called on to interpret his own vision, would have called the things symbolised “the birth-pangs of the Messiah” rather than “the signs of the Coming” or “of the Appearing of the Lord:” all we need say is, that they fit in exactly with Christian belief, and cannot fit more exactly with Jewish.
But when six seals are opened, we have, on any hypothesis, a break in the progress of the narrative. As each of the first four was opened, something happened, and the Lamb went on to the next: the cry “Come!” was heard, and some one came came forth, apparently, from Heaven, and went out over the earth. With the opening of the next two seals, there follow signs in Heaven, the former anticipating, and the latter producing, certain events on earth: so far, though not closely grouped with the first four seals, the effects of these two are analogous with theirs. But now there is a pause: that is in itself something new.
But the first of the events that fills the pause fits naturally enough into its place. War, scarcity, pestilence, convulsions of nature, have already fallen upon the earth: all men are looking in terror for the revelation of the wrath of God: we are now told, that before it is revealed, the elect remnant of God’s own people are to be marked as His, presumably in order to shelter them from that wrath in the day of its revelation. I say presumably, for this object of the sealing is not stated: still it is implied both by the context and by the parallel passage in Ezekiel.
But when the servants of God have been sealed in their foreheads, and we expect the wrath of God to break forth upon the rest of the world, we have instead a vision of God’s servants already triumphant: not of “the great tribulation” but of those who come out of it. We need not discuss whether other discrepancies can be reconciled: whether it is possible that “a great multitude which no man could number, out of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues,” can be the same as “144,000 sealed of every tribe of the children of Israel,” only regarded from another point of view; or whether, as seems more credible, they be coordinate, and there be among the Elect “of the tribes of Israel a certain number, of all other nations an innumerable multitude.” The latter view, I think, would hold well enough if the two visions came later on: but as they stand here, one seems so decidedly to come before and one after the end, that the temptation felt by Vischer to regard the second as an interpolation is very strong. On the other hand, it is very difficult to conceive the second vision as not proceeding from the author of the fourth and fifth chapters: the picture of the white-robed multitude, the words of their hymn, the paradox of the Lamb Who is the Shepherd, as there He was the Lion all these seem to shew that the thought, as well as the expression, is that of the original author.
But let us pass over these nine verses. They can be omitted altogether as an interpolation: we may, perhaps more plausibly, because a test is harder to apply, regard them not as an interpolation but as themselves interpolated: but in no case are they either more or less than an interruption to the course of the main action. After them, the Lamb who had opened the sixth seal opens the seventh; the main action is resumed just where it had left off and, I would observe, the fact that the name of the Lamb is not repeated, but that the verb stands without a subject, is some presumption that the parenthesis had not been very long: cf. 16:17, true text, and contrast 9:1, 13, 11:15.
But nowhere have we yet had the winds blowing, as we expected, on the earth, the sea, and the trees: the four angels who appeared at the beginning of ch. 7 are heard of no more. “When He had opened the seventh seal” when either the expected wrath of God should break forth, or the indignation should have ceased, and His anger, in their destruction, instead of God’s anger appearing either before or after the opening, “there was silence in Heaven about the space of half an hour.” Everything has worked up to a climax: and nothing comes of it. Can this be the consummation intended by the original author? It is conceivable, no doubt, that the preceding episode, which we felt to be out of place, has displaced what we feel to be wanting that when God’s servants had been sealed, the earth and sea were smitten, and that then, and then only, there followed the initium quietis aeternae . But if this be so, still all difficulty does not vanish. The seven seals of the book are now unloosed: why do we not hear of its being opened, perhaps read? Why is not that done, which the Seer “wept much” to think that none could do?
I can think of no answer, if the Apocalypse be regarded as a self-conscious work of art, deliberately conceived: but if we regard it as a bona fide vision, the phenomenon seems natural enough. None of us, probably, have experience of visions which we could by the wildest enthusiasm regard as divine revelations, even in a lower degree than this Book claims to be: but our experience of ordinary dreams, or possibly of delirium, may suggest analogies to the psychological processes at work here, though not to their subject-matter. The seer has much more self-control and self-possession than an ordinary dreamer; he knows as a rule what to look for, and what to look at, and sees what is shewn to him: but every now and then there is a transition: “a change comes o’er the spirit of his dream,” and he loses the thread of the story that he has been telling. One point in which there seems a constant uncertainty, is this: is his point of view from earth or heaven? More will depend on this when we come to the twelfth chapter. Here it is enough to say, that the Lamb’s opening of the book looks like a magnificent torso, with the limbs perfect, and the head wanting. Under these circumstances it is a priori unlikely that the shoulders should have undergone restoration. On the other hand, the thread of narrative that is once lost is, always or almost always, resumed again sooner or later. We hear nothing here of the Lamb opening the book of which He has opened the seals: but further on we hear again and again of the Lamb having a book, the Book of Life: and at last in ch. 20 a book is opened, “which is the Book of Life:” and this, I believe, is the book whose seals have been opened in this portion of the vision. I have failed to find authority among commentators for this view, and therefore submit it with all diffidence; but it seems to me less arbitrary, with more support in the Revelation itself, than any of the many theories that have been advanced as to what this book can be.
And again without going into matter so remote or so disputable, though we do not hear of the four angels letting loose the four winds upon the earth before the seventh seal or immediately after it, we do, very soon after it 1 1 We need not pause over the incense-offering angel who is interposed between the seals and the trumpets, nor enquire if “the seven angels who stand before God” have anything to do with “the seven spirits that are before His Throne.” , hear of four angels by whose ministry the earth, the sea, and the trees are hurt (viz. those who sound the first four trumpets): and then of a woe on those who have not the seal of God in their foreheads. The vision of the seven seals has, it seems, ended without an end: but if it had received its only adequate ending, how could anything more have followed? As it is, the seven trumpets do follow, and partly, though only partly, supply what seems wanting to the seven seals. The new series is not independent of the former it arises out of it.
In fact, we have here a characteristic of the book, which has I think been more clearly insisted on by Renan than by most other commentators. We have a series of events which lead us to expect the end of all things: but instead of an end, we find the beginning of a new series. But every series, or nearly every one, refers backward if not forward to another, and proves that it belongs in its actual place. The phenomenon seems to admit of only two explanations. Either those commentators are right who, from St Victorinus to Alford, have held the different series of visions to be successive only in appearance, and events signified to be not successive but parallel: or else we have one point in which the “continuous historical scheme” of interpretation actually holds good. Again and again, from the Apostles’ time to our own, the predicted signs of the Lord’s coming have multiplied: men have looked, in hope or fear, for the end of the world: but the world has not come to an end, it has taken a fresh lease of life, and gone on just as before, with judgement and salvation as remote or as imperfect as ever.
We need not discuss what happens on the blowing of the first six trumpets, as here we plainly have no break in the sequence of the narrative, no doubt of its original unity. I should only like to point out, that in the 9th chapter we have one of the dream-like inconsequences, closely resembling that already noted in ch. 7. Again we hear of four angels being let loose, apparently for a work of vengeance: but instead of vengeance being executed by four angels, there appears a countless army of terrible horsemen. And just as, after the sixth seal was opened, instead of the dreaded revelation of the great day of God’s wrath, there came the pause and the gathering of the Elect, so after the sixth trumpet before even “the second woe is past” there is a pause in which a mighty angel descends, and the Seer receives a new commission.
And here follows the passage whereon Vischer’s theory originally rests. “There was given to” the Seer “a reed like unto a staff, saying” who says it? does the reed itself speak? probably the unnamed, perhaps unseen, giver of it says, “Arise, and measure the Temple [Sanctuary] of God, and the Altar, and them that worship therein. And the court that is without the Temple cast outward, and measure it not, because it was given to the Gentiles, and the Holy City they shall trample 42 months.” It is assumed that this means, that the Gentiles, who at the time of the vision are besieging the Holy City, will capture it, trample it under foot as far as the outer Court of the Temple, perhaps even as far as the Court of Israel: but the Altar and the Sanctuary, the Temple in the narrowest sense, will remain inviolable, and those worshippers who are found in this sacred refuge will be secure. This, I say, is assumed to be the meaning: I cannot think that it is proved. The Seer is bidden to measure the Temple and Altar, and not to measure the outer court: but by what token does that mean that the one is to be destroyed or at least profaned, and the other not? In one passage of Zechariah, the command not to measure Jerusalem means that she shall grow to immeasurable greatness; in Old Testament imagery generally, to measure may be for destruction as well as for preservation. No doubt, here a contrast is intended between the fate of the Sanctuary and of the outer court: but it is not clear what the contrast is, nor which fate is the better. The outer court was, we are told, given to the Gentiles: when and by whom was it so given? Perhaps by Titus: but it is at least as easy to say, by Herod or Zerubbabel whichever built it: he may, designedly or otherwise, have enlarged Solomon’s Temple to be, as Isaiah said it should be, “a house of prayer for all nations.” I do not say that this is the seer’s meaning, out it is a quite possible one, that the outer court of the Lord’s Temple only realised its destiny when it was occupied by Gentiles, who used it for prayer, not by Jews who regarded “the mountain of the House” as only useful for “a house of merchandise” or even “a den of thieves;” and that when the “line of confusion and the stones of emptiness” shall pass over the site of the Temple, this outer court shall remain a holy place, a world-wide not a national sanctuary. A Christian of the first century might possibly anticipate this; certainly a Christian of the fifth, perhaps a very tolerant theist of the 19th, might say that it has actually been fulfilled.
I do not myself believe this to be certainly hardly probably the true interpretation; I only say that it is one suggested by the words of the text, and that it ascribes no absurdity to the seer’s conception. The Judaic meaning ascribed to him is, I venture to think, utterly absurd. It would be credible to a devout Jew, that the Lord would defend His Holy City as in Hezekiah’s day that though the Land of Israel might be overrun by the heathen, City and Temple should be safe. It would be credible even, at least to a fanatical Jew, that when the City was taken, when even the outer court of the Temple was stormed, the Lord would at last arise and break forth upon His enemies, or would be a wall of fire round about His Sanctuary. Such was, we are told, the actual hope of the fanatic defenders of the Temple, at the last moment before its fall. But could the craziest fanatic suppose, that the Lord would maintain a purely passive defence in His last Citadel? that He would allow the hitherto victorious enemy to hold, for three and a half years, everything up to the Temple wall, while the Temple-worship should go on undisturbed and unprofaned, in their midst but out of their reach or sight? What the worshippers are to live on how sacrifices are to be provided for the Altar is unexplained. This, if I understand it, is the popular rationalistic view of what the seer meant: the seer was no rationalist, but I do not think he was so irrational as that.
Perhaps the most reasonable view of the meaning of the passage is, that “the Temple” spoken of is not that in the earthly Jerusalem, but its heavenly Archetype, of which we unquestionably read in 11:19, 15:5, &c. What then is meant by the different fortune of the Temple proper and the outer court, what by the measuring of one and non-measuring of the other, seems very obscure. Timidly I would ask, can the earthly Temple be regarded as the outer-court of the heavenly; but, if this will not stand, to give no explanation seems better than to give an absurd one. The purely Judaic interpretation of this passage is, I venture to say, utterly absurd; one is tempted to say that any other will be better than this; but it will be enough to say that this has no right to be assumed as an axiom, whereon the true theory of the book’s origin or meaning is to be founded.
To proceed to the prediction, rather than vision, that follows: that the two Witnesses are Moses, or a Prophet like unto Moses, and Elias is, I think, almost certain. Their coming as precursors of the Messiah is no doubt quite in harmony with Jewish doctrine, as represented to us at least by the Fourth Gospel. Only as it has (with or without the substitution of Enoch for Moses) been the ordinary belief of Christendom, we cannot deny that it harmonises with Christian doctrine quite as well. That they smite their enemies with plagues after the manner of the historic Moses and Elias, instead of suffering meekly like those who know that they are of another manner of spirit, is hardly a fatal objection to the Christian origin of the passage. It may give a sort of presumption that the tone of the prophecy is not above that of the Old Testament: but when two Christian Apostles delivered offenders to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, it would need a high spiritual discernment to be sure of it. We are on more certain ground, when we note the inconsequent character of the narrative here. The seer does not, in the first instance, see the two Witnesses: the same voice, whosesoever it be, that bade him measure the Temple, tells him what they will do, during 1260 days, presumably the same period as the 42 months of the Gentiles trampling the Holy City. But by degrees the hearing of the description passes into vision the futures gradually give place, first to presents and then to aorists, just as happens, on a smaller scale, in 20:7 9. Here, from v. 11 or 12 onwards, we are back in the ordinary course of vision. At last, the series of the seven trumpets is resumed: we are told that the second woe is past did it include the plagues inflicted by the two Witnesses, as well as that of the terrible horsemen of ch. 10? and the seventh trumpet sounds.
And its sounding is not so purely negative, or at least undefined, in its effect as the opening of the seventh seal. It is declared that the Kingdom of the world has passed into the hands of God and His Anointed: it seems that the promise of the mighty angel is fulfilled, and the mystery of God finished. But its completion is not seen. The divine Kingdom is proclaimed, the Lord Who is and was is no longer spoken of as “to come” (though I doubt if this be significant), and is praised for His assumption of power and execution of judgement: but no judgement is visibly executed. Instead of the consummation of all things, we have again a new beginning, a new series of visions, whose developement extends, with certain interruptions, throughout the remainder of the book.
One commentator has tried to make this series of visions more closely parallel with the others, by representing it as consisting of “seven mystical figures” meaning, I suppose (he did not make it quite clear), the Woman, the Man Child, the Dragon, the two Beasts, the Lamb, and the Son of Man upon the cloud. But when the seer himself says nothing of this enumeration, it is hardly likely that he was conscious of it: and if not, no light is thrown by it upon the genesis of the work. The symmetry would only be important, if we could use it to prove that this series of visions belongs to its place that it is not an originally independent apocalypse, embodied with other elements in the work that we have. We are not yet in a position to discuss whether this is so: we will pursue our examination of the sequence of the visions as we find them.
First of all, there appears another great sign in Heaven: the Daughter of Zion, whom Micah described as in travail, now brings forth her Son: Who is, unquestionably, the Messiah, the Hope of Israel. That here the point of view is Judaic need not be questioned: to concede this does not involve the concession of Vischer’s theory. Christians have never felt any difficulty in understanding the description here given as applying to the birth of their Christ; though their anti-Judaic feelings have led them to miss the identification of His ideal Mother. They have, as a rule, conceived her as “the Church;” and then there is a little confusion in the image, when afterwards the Church appears as “the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife.” Regard the vision as that of a Jewish Christian, or at all events a Christian of the days before Jewish and Christian sentiments were hopelessly embittered against one another, and all is clear. Christ is conceived as the Son of the Church of the Old Covenant, the Bridegroom of the Church of the New: we may add, that the Jewish Christian Seer need not have been surprised, though he would have been disappointed, to learn what became plain in the course of the next century, that the Bridegroom had to forsake His Mother, in order to cleave to His Wife.
But while I admit that the crown of twelve stars, and still more the reminiscences of Micah, mark the travailing Woman as being the Daughter of Zion, I do not deny that in other aspects her figure may have other meanings. It seems by no means arbitrary to parallel this passage with the so-called Protevangelium of Genesis 3:0 with the legitimacy of which as exegesis, of course, we are not concerned. Here as there, we have the Woman, the Seed of the Woman, and the Serpent “the old Serpent” is a manifest reference to his action in Eden: here the enmity between the Serpent and the Woman and her Seed is seen at work: and the victory of her Seed over him, though not described under the exact figure of bruising the head, is the main subject of the remainder of the book.
The Woman is then conceived quite as much as being a second Eve, as she is as being the Daughter of Zion. Is she also, in any sense, to be identified with the historical Mother of Jesus? I believe that she is: the language of the Martyrs of Lyons about “the Virgin Mother,” and some other fragments of what seem to be pure Johannine traditions, appear to suggest, not perhaps an exaltation of the personal Mary to a position such as that of the Woman here, but a recognition of an ideal Mother of Christ, into whose glory the historical Mary was admitted, and in whom her personality was lost sight of. But this is rather a theological question than an exegetical; at any rate, it is one which criticism cannot touch and may safely pass by.
The pictures given us in this twelfth chapter are grander than any that we have met with since the seventh, perhaps even since the fifth: yet there is a certain vagueness about them they seem to shift like a dissolving view. The Woman and the Dragon each appear, in the first instance, “in Heaven;” and there is nothing inconsistent with this in the Child being “caught” it is not said “caught up ” “to God and to His Throne,” for the Throne of God is only seen in one definite place, in the midst of Heaven. But, even before the Dragon is cast into the earth, “the Woman fled into the wilderness” surely there are no wildernesses in Heaven: and when he is cast down, he finds her on earth within seeming reach of his persecution. She flees, we are again told, into the wilderness, and now at least we cannot doubt an earthly one: the earth itself interposes, to protect her flight. And now we find that she who has brought forth one glorious Son surely, one would think, her First-born has on earth others of her seed, against whom the Dragon can make war. These are they “who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus.” It is utterly arbitrary to excise the last word; even if it were possible to restore the rhythm by substituting a neutral phrase like that in 6:9, we still could hardly make the doctrine of the passage agree as well with Jewish notions as it now does with Christian, and especially Johannine. “The Firstborn among many brethren” “I ascend to My Father and your Father” sayings like these make plain the relations here presupposed: there is nothing inconsistent even with developements like that which St Augustine adopted from Tyconius about the Head and the Members, or even like that of a modern Catholic sermon on “Behold thy Mother.”
Vischer’s theory seems therefore to pass over the real difficulty of the chapter the transition from heaven to earth as the scene of action while he brings forward another, to which this transition affords some sort of explanation. When we read “The Accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accuseth them before our God day and night: and they overcame him” we surely naturally think of a victory not military (such as was, apparently, gained by Michael and his angels just before), but forensic; and the contradiction between vv. 7 and 11 vanishes. We therefore have no need to expunge from the latter the words that tell us how or why the victory was gained. (I say how or why: for one cannot be sure that this writer knew as well as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews the classical or philosophical distinction between τὸ διʼ οὗ and τὸ δι ὅ .) Still, v. 11 does rather break the continuity of the sense; it is difficult to see how the Saints on earth, who suffered even to death in the contest with the Dragon, can be said to have already gained over him, even a forensic victory. But we see that in v. 6 we have had a proleptic mention of the flight of the Woman, the detailed explanation of which did not come till v. 14: it seems therefore possible that the strife between the Dragon and the Saints on earth mentioned in v. 17 is that whose end in the victory of the Saints is celebrated proleptically in v. 11.
In fact, the “war” of the Dragon against the Saints on earth, the Seed of the Woman, is not carried on by open force, such as Merodach or perhaps even Michael may have used. The Dragon keeps himself out of sight, and enthrones the Beast, as we are told in ch. 13, as his regent and champion. Of this Beast we have heard already in ch. 11, and we can hardly doubt that the “war” that he then waged against the two Witnesses is identical with this against the remnant of the Seed of the Woman. It lasts for the same period, Daniel’s “time, times, and half a time,” otherwise defined as 42 months or 1260 days. If these periods be not coincident, the only plausible view is that one immediately succeeds the other that they are the first and the second halves of a week of years. But the mention of the Beast as the chief belligerent in both seems to prove their identity: the Woman is placed in safety for just the time that the oppression of her children is to last.
On the details of the oppression we need not dwell, nor on the second Beast, or the enigmatical number. But immediately after the description of the force and fraud exercised by them follows that of the Lamb with His 144,000 redeemed virgins, reminding us, not more by the details of its imagery than by its beauty, both moral and artistic, of the fifth and seventh chapters. How far is it legitimate to regard this passage as out of place where it stands? It certainly interrupts the course of events: but the interruption is of the nature of a relief. From the picture of the triumphant persecuting monster, of the superstitious degradation of the world, we turn away to the spotless holiness and the unapproachable harmony of the Saviour and the saved. The effect is something like that of the doxology in Romans 1:25 , as explained by St Chrysostom an expression of the sense that the divine blessedness remains unimpaired by human corruption.
However, the five first verses of ch. 14 are separable from the main narrative: and so, still more, are vv. 12, 13. So, most of all, are vv. 14 20: if one might venture to wish to discard as an interpolation any part of the attested text of the Apocalypse, it would be this passage. How can it be understood of anything but the final judgement? yet it comes here as anything but final: the last plagues, the completion of the wrath of God, are still to come. The harvest and the vintage of the earth are gathered, but no harvest home is celebrated, and the earth goes on just as before. How is it, that God’s wrath is not finished in the treading of the great wine-press, from which blood comes forth? and what horses are they whose bridles are reached by the blood that comes out of the wine-press?
On the other hand, except their coming after this image of the final judgement, there is nothing to surprise us in the succession of the seven last plagues. Like as their imagery is to that of the earlier trumpets, there is a real ethical difference and progress: what is still more important, they fit into the place where they stand. We have had first the wrath of the Dragon, then the enthronement and tyranny of the Beast; then the angels warn mankind of the judgement coming on his worshippers and on Babylon: and then come these plagues, the last which God will send in the character of disciplinary chastisement, leaving room (which mankind do not avail themselves of) for repentance. Then, when these plagues have been sent in vain, the fall of Babylon and the overthrow of the Beast will follow as predicted.
But before Babylon does fall, she is set before us as she was in her prosperity. And this episode, though when the Book is finished we see that it has a certain propriety, is certainly felt as an interruption to the narrative here. The Harlot sits on a Beast having seven heads and ten horns the fact that such a Beast has been already introduced being ignored. Here he appears as a mere Beast of burden, while before he was enthroned as sovereign of the world. Here he is in scarlet, while there he was like unto a leopard, and presumably the colour of one. I do not wish to speak disrespectfully of the theories of this book that have been built upon one passage in this chapter. As theories of apocalyptic interpretation go, they are at least plausible. But I am afraid that these theories, widely received as they are, may be endangered when we recognise that this chapter is one that can most easily, nay advantageously, be spared, if once we call in question the unity and integrity of the book.
The eighteenth chapter fits on almost equally well with what precedes, whether the seventeenth be retained or no. In either case, there is no description of the fall of Babylon 1 1 One thing I should like to notice in passing: that whether the predictions of this chapter have been fulfilled or no, its ancient interpreters have been unusually happy in predictions that are in a fair way to be so. St Hippolytus gathered from it, though it is hard to see on what grounds, that the kingdoms of the Diadochi of the Caesars will pass into democracies: and St Benedict, from the absence of any description of the actual fall of Babylon, gathered that it will be effected by natural convulsions, not by human enemies. We know what he did not, that si Albani montes lapides dejecerint , Rome “might easily share the fate of Pompeii.” , and there is a variation in the tenses, as though the writer were not sure whether it is predicted or commemorated: but we learn, from this and the early part of the next, that the great Harlot City is overthrown, amid the selfish lamentations of earth and the righteous exultations of Heaven. Then “the Son of God goes forth to war,” against the Kings of the Earth who, at the outpouring of the sixth vial, had been mustered in the service of the Beast, and who (according to the seventeenth chapter) have dethroned and destroyed the Beast’s harlot mistress. The Beast and the False Prophet (who is usually and no doubt rightly identified with the second Beast, or rather perhaps is substituted for him by one of the “dissolving views” of the Book) are overthrown, and the Dragon imprisoned: and the millennial reign of Christ and His Saints follows.
Then comes a prediction, passing gradually (as in ch. 11) into a description, of the final overthrow of the world. The Dragon, the Devil, repeats in his own person what he had before done through the agency of the Beast: and he, like him, is overthrown, only more by directly divine agency, with even less appearance of a human conqueror. Then follows the final judgement, executed by God in person, Christ not being here named either as His representative or assessor. But the Book of Life is opened, as a kind of check on the other books which contained the record of the good or evil deeds of those who are to be judged: and if we remember how, in other passages, the Book of Life is connected with the Lamb, we have here a hint of almost Pauline doctrine salvation by the grace of Christ apart from works, and condemnation of those who are judged by works only. There is nothing inconsistent with this in the suggestion, that those who are acquitted will have good works standing to their credit in the other books; these serve, as Alford says, as vouchers for the Book of Life. The concluding vision of the New Jerusalem does not need detailed examination. We need not dispute with Vischer, that the distinctively Christian element in it is confined to a few easily separable phrases: on the other hand, the picture is equally in place as the culmination of a Jewish ideal and of a Christian ideal conceived in Jewish forms. That the gates of the City bear the names of the twelve Tribes of Israel is no evidence that salvation, that the highest salvation, is confined to Israelites: on the other hand, the way that “the Nations” are mentioned is real evidence of a Jewish belief in their necessarily and eternally inferior position in the Kingdom of God. But this is not decisive evidence of an exclusively Jewish point of view; for if, on other grounds, we regard the whole book as Christian, we shall be able to regard the privileged citizens of the heavenly metropolis as being St Paul’s “Israel of God,” the 144,000 of the seventh chapter interpreted by the fourteenth: a divine aristocracy indeed, but elected on spiritual not on carnal principles.
But there is one point where this concluding vision throws light on the question of the integrity of the book. It can hardly be undesigned, that the same angel, or an angel of the same rank and company, is the revealer of the new Babylon and of the New Jerusalem: it marks a suggestive contrast between the two figures of the Bride and the Harlot. While we saw that ch. 17 delays and rather embarrasses the progress of the action, we are thus led to believe that it forms an integral part of the designed form of the work.
No one will quarrel with Vischer for marking off the last 16 verses, or nearly all of them, as a conclusion, more or less separable from the central series of visions. We have therefore completed our examination of the course of events described in the Apocalypse, and have only to sum up and tabulate our analysis of the work, regarded as a continuous story, and setting aside the passages that are certainly or probably interruptions to its course.
Chh. 4 5. Description of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the midst of the Host of Heaven. 6 8:1. The Lamb opens the seven seals of the Book (of life). [Between the sixth and seventh, the servants of God are however sealed.] 7:9 17. Vision of the Saints in triumph seems out of place at this stage of events. Compare 14:1 5, 15:2 4. 8:2 11. Seven trumpets sounded by angels. [Between the sixth and seventh, seven thunders utter what may not be written: and a great angel delivers a new commission to the seer: and (he or another) foretells the prophecy of the two Witnesses, their martyrdom before the Beast, resurrection, and triumph.] 12. War begun in Heaven, and transferred to earth, between the Dragon and the Woman and her Seed. [12:11 somewhat interrupts the context.] 13 19. War between the Beast as the Dragon’s vicegerent, and the Saints of God. [13:9, 10, though at a natural pause in the narrative resembles passages that interrupt the context.] 14:1 5 is episodical, but not necessarily irrelevant. [12, 13 seem irrelevant, and 14 20 utterly inappropriate to this place.] 15, 16 are episodical, but relevant. [16:15 is at best parenthetical, interrupting a continuous narrative.] [17 can be omitted with a gain to clearness.] 20:1 6. Partial and temporary establishment of the Kingdom of the Saints. 7 10. Rebellion of the Dragon. 11 15. Divine judgement. 21:1 22:5. Final and universal establishment of the Kingdom of God and Christ. I think this analysis, though drawn up with Vischer before me, and with the object of looking for illustrations of his hypothesis, really lends it no support. If it points to any hypothesis at all inconsistent with the unity of the book, it would be one more akin to Völter’s.
[He analyses the book as follows:
The original Apocalypse written by St John the Apostle, 1:4 6 [greeting to the seven unnamed Churches of Asia], 4:1 5:10 [omitting the seven horns and seven eyes of the Lamb, 4:6, because the seven Spirits of God cannot be represented at the same moment by the seven Lamps before the Throne and by the seven eyes]. 6:1 17 [omitting the wrath of the Lamb, 6:16, which comes in strangely before 17, where we read, ‘the great day of His (i.e. God’s) wrath is come.’] 7:1 8, 8:1 13, 9:1 21, 11:14 19 leaving out ‘and of His Christ’ in 11:15, because in the next clause the best attested reading is ‘ He shall reign,’ and [the time] ‘of the dead to be judged,’ v. 18, as the destroyers of the earth must be destroyed before, not after, the general judgement. 14:1 3, omitting [His Name and], in 14:1, as the servants of God, 7:2, are sealed with His Name. 14:6, 7, 18:1 24, 19:1 4, 14:14 20, 14:4 10, without the last words ‘for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,’ which are treated as a later addition, because throughout the original Apocalypse the seer receives his revelations through angels, and the seven Spirits are in no special relation to the Lamb. This work is assigned to 65 or 66 a.d. on the ground that the events of the time more or less suggest what follows in the vision on the opening of the first five seals. A Roman army surrendered to the Parthians in 62. Much of Nero’s unpopularity was due to scarcity and high prices. There was a pestilence in the autumn of 65. The wholesale execution of Christians in 64 might suggest the souls crying under the altar.
The additions made by the author, 10:1 11:13. The angel with the little book (who swears that everything shall be accomplished in the day of the sounding of the Seventh Trumpet, and informs the seer that he has to prophesy again ) and the Two Witnesses. The section interrupts the connexion. In 9:21 we have clearly the close of the second woe, and the passing of the second and the coming of the third is announced 11:14. This passage is assigned to 68 or 69 a.d. on the ground that the seer, after the outbreak of the Jewish War, expects that all Jerusalem except the Temple will be taken and held by the heathen for three years and a half.
If the writer be acquainted with the vision of the Beast out of the Abyss in 17:1 18 [when the vision of the seven ‘vials’ had been inserted before this chapter, the writer of that vision or another would naturally think that the angel who shews the Woman on the Scarlet Beast is one of the seven who had the ‘vials’] this vision must be of the same date or earlier. If so Galba, not Vespasian, is meant by the sixth head of the Beast. It is supposed that 14:8, the second angel who proclaims the fall of Babylon, was added when 17:1 18 was inserted between 14:7 and 18:1.
The episode of the Woman and the Dragon, 12:1 17. [12:11 is assigned to the author of 12:18 13 sqq. and has the look of an after-thought. A year later Völter was convinced by Weiszacker that 12:13 17 are not by the writer of 12:1 12; it is hard to see how 6 and 13 could be written by the same man at the same time.] The sequel 19:11 21:8 [here ‘His name is called the Word of God’ is omitted as inconsistent with His Name being unknown save to Himself, and again all the mentions of the False Prophet and the mark of the Beast in 19:20, 21, 22:10, are ascribed to the author of 12:18, 13. &c.]. 12 is not the sequel of the vision of the Seals and Trumpets which carries us further into the future, still less is it the sequel of 11; the 42 months in which the Woman is nourished in the Wilderness, and the 1260 days in which the Witnesses prophesy in sackcloth, are two independent representations of the times in which Jerusalem is trodden under foot of the Gentiles. The sequel of 12 in 19:11 21:8, in which the Man Child fulfils His Mission of ruling with a rod of iron, is plainly independent both of what goes before and what follows it. The thousand years’ reign begins and ends without a word of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb announced, 19:9. The date of the section is made to depend on the Dragon going to make war with the remnant of the seed of the Woman, which is explained of the systematic persecution of Christianity begun, according to Dr Völter, by Trajan, as no systematic regulations for the punishment of Christians can be traced older than his letter to Pliny. A secondary (and more plausible) sense of these words is found in the insurrection of the Jews of the dispersion. The words ‘and his Christ’, 11:15, and ‘time of the dead to be judged’, 11:18, are supposed to have been inserted with this section.
The Beast which rises from the sea in 13 appears to be described by someone already familiar with the description of the beast in 17. The ten horns, which in 17 represent ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, are crowned in 13. The worship of the beast and the false prophet are recurring topics throughout the description of the seven ‘vials’ in 15, 16. The detailed description of the New Jerusalem, 21:9 22:5, has the appearance of being added quite independently of the short announcement, quite complete in itself, in 21:5. The original close of this addition is to be found in the parts of 22:6 21, where the angel is the speaker, not the Lord.
The date of this addition is made to depend partly on that of C, to which it is certainly posterior, partly on the fact that Trajanus Hadrianus, when accurately transliterated into Hebrew, yields both 666 and 616. The Sibylline books give some plausibility to the conjecture that he is meant by the beast out of the sea: he greatly encouraged the worship of the emperors: so did Herodes Atticus when he was acting as imperial commissioner in Asia Minor, when Hadrian paid his second visit there in 129 a.d. No evidence is available to prove that Herodes Atticus used magic for the purposes of his propaganda, or that the worship was enforced by penalties. The writer of this section, which [more certainly than C] was intended to be incorporated with the rest of the revelation, is supposed to have made the following additions, 5:11 14 (an amplification of the praise of the Lamb), the mention of the wrath of the Lamb in 6:16, 7:9 17, (the great multitude of the redeemed), the mention of the Lamb’s name in 14:1, 14:4, 5, which imply that the 144,000 are the firstfruits, not the whole body of the redeemed, 14:9 12 (the third angel who proclaims judgement on the worshippers of the beast), and the mention of the false prophet in 19:20, 21, 20:9, 10.
Lastly, the Seven Epistles to the Churches were added, and at the same time 1:1 3, 1:7, 8; the mention of the seven spirits in 5:6; 14:13, the blessing on the dead that die in the Lord, 16:15 ‘behold I come as a thief’ &c. 19:10, 13 (the mention of The Word); and all in 22:7 21 which is spoken by the Lord.
This section is assigned to 140 a.d. on the grounds that the angels of the Churches are bishops and that bishops cannot have been established long before, and that the Nicolaitans are a name for the followers of Carpocrates.
It will be seen that the analysis is independent of the dates, and that the growth of the book as sketched shews a steady approximation to the doctrines of the Fourth Gospel. It is not surprising that Vischer, by excluding everything distinctly Christian, often arrives at the results which Völter reaches by analysis.
I do not mean that we can, by mere analysis of the story, discover as he claims to have done the exact portions due to different authors, still less that we can assign the date of each. But if the Apocalypse is to be divided into different independent works, I think one of them should be conceived to consist of the Prologue in Heaven, with the series of seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven vials, culminating in the Advent of the Son of Man, the harvest and the vintage: and the other of the vision of the mighty angel, the war between the Dragon and the Seed of the Woman; the victory, first of the Messiah over the Beast, and then of God over the Devil; the Judgement by God in person, and the establishment of the New Jerusalem. In each of these we should have to recognise various episodes, of which some may or may not be interpolations; as well as touches supplied in each to unite them with the other. It would be a little less arbitrary than some of Vischer’s excisions, if we suppose the mention of “the Lamb” in the second work to be of this character: and then it might be supposed that this was a Jewish Apocalypse while the other was a Christian.
If I may venture to give an opinion, it is in this form that the hypothesis of the partly Jewish origin of the work is most plausible, and if presented in this form it would require serious attention. But to formulate this hypothesis fairly, and propose it for discussion, would require that one should believe it: and this I cannot say that I do. The unity of style throughout the book seems absolutely fatal to a plurality of authors such as is supposed by Völter. It is more consistent with Vischer’s theory, that the Christian redactor and interpolator is the translator of all of which he is not the author: but whether even this would account for the unity of style is very doubtful. The Son of Sirach writes quite differently in his Prologue from his translation: and the presumption would have been that the Son of Zebedee (if it be he) would have written the same fair Hellenistic Greek as other New Testament writers, if it had been only the influence of a Hebrew original that made the grammar of the Apocalypse so peculiar.
On the whole, I think the phenomena are best accounted for by what one may call with Vischer the psychological conditions of the case, which are as he almost admits much more intelligible on the view of unity in the work. The two series of visions are presented, in part successively and in part alternately, to the mind of the seer: he writes down what he sees or hears, in part when he sees or hears it, or at any-rate as he remembers it: when he hears a divine word, he records it either at once, in the midst of his narrative of visions, or at the first convenient pause therein. Possibly, indeed, there is a sort of middle term between unity and plurality of authorship: the Revelation may have been written as the well-known tradition says that the Gospel was. St John had a vision: he records it, and the messages to the Churches, in a work drawn up by him after his return from the exile in which he had seen the main vision, but under inspiration cognate with that in which he saw it: and so, whether by voice or pen, he pours forth the tide of prophecy. But “if anything is revealed to another that sitteth by, the first holds his peace:” and so inspired utterances, similar to and suggested by the main vision, but not forming part of its orderly course, find a place in it.
Since the above was written the controversy started by Völter and Vischer has continued and spread. Veterans of different schools like Düsterdieck, Weiss, and Hilgenfeld, still maintain the unity of the Book; but most who write on it abroad seem increasingly doubtful whether this thesis is tenable. Moderate critics like Weissäcker and moderate theologians like Pfleiderer (who on the Johannine question is an extreme and not very authoritative critic) both maintain large interpolations. In France more than one critic inclines to the view that a Christian writer has incorporated a Jewish Apocalypse. In Germany Spitta, who inherits the pietistic traditions of Halle and places his orthodoxy under the protection of Luther, postulates a Christian Apocalypse, consisting mainly of the Book with the Seven Seals and two Jewish Apocalypses, one of the date of Pompey’s intrusion into the Temple, the centre of this being the Vision of the Witnesses, and another dating from Caligula the centre of which is the Visions of the Woman, the Dragon and the Beast. All were combined and enlarged by a Christian editor; the analysis is very suggestive, though the main scheme is less than convincing. As Holtzmann says in the Introduction to his suggestive Manual Commentary the question is not ripe for decision, but it may be hoped that criticism is entering on the right way. Simcox, W. H. (1894). The Revelation of S. John the Divine with Notes and Introduction . The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (174). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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"Commentary on Revelation 22". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18