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V. 1. John is given a reed and told to measure the temple and altar and worshippers. Why should he measure them? What was meant by this act? In the Old Testament measuring is sometimes associated with destruction as in 2Sa_8:2 , Amo_7:7-8 , and Hab_3:6 . But sometimes it foretokens a rebuilding as in Eze_40:1-49 ff., and Zec_2:1 . But what does it mean here? It is impossible to regard it as a sign of rebuilding for the second verse and elsewhere in this chapter we have the destruction of the city. While it may be regarded as a measuring for destruction, another view, perhaps as plausible, is that it signified the preservation of all that was good and true about the city and temple; the sifting out for salvation of some elements even in a wicked city ripe for destruction. This is supported by the fact that the worshippers are also included in the measuring. It is not very important which of these views we take. But what is important immediately follows.
V. 2. John is told that he need not measure the court which is without the temple for it is given to the Gentiles; and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty-two months.
Here is so plainly the destruction of Jerusalem that it could hardly be put in plainer words. It seems evident that there is no getting away from the fact that here we are dealing with the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70, that all that John has said hitherto was leading up to this great fact, that here we have the culmination of these prophetic seals, and this is where the first half of the book lands us. Here, as we open this chapter, is Jerusalem, still standing. Here are the temple and altar in the midst of it. This forever and absolutely precludes the idea that these events are to happen thousands of years in the future. It matters nothing what other men may say, this is what John wrote; this is what Christ revealed; this is what the Bible says; and that is final.
This incidentally shows when John was writing; while the temple and city still stood, before they had been destroyed, or about the year 66.
We read that the Gentiles shall tread the city down forty-two months. This is not to be taken as 1260 years by making every day mean a year. That method of interpretation has little to recommend it. I know of no reason why a day should mean a year or why God should obscure his prophecies by such enigmatical methods. But the times and half a time, the three and a half years, the forty-two months, the 1260 days, are all the same and mean just what they say. Here the forty-two months or three and a half years evidently refers to the time of the siege, sack, and pillage of Jerusalem by the Roman armies. We first find this term in Daniel when Jerusalem was oppressed three and a half years by Antiochus Epiphanes, and the term may have taken on a symbolical meaning expressing a period of oppression. It was exactly the time of Antiochus' outrages, and approximately, at least, the time of Rome's active operation against Jerusalem.
Vs. 3-12. This is a passage that has puzzled many. Two witnesses prophesy 1260 days, the same forty-two months or three and a half years. They have great power to stay the rain, and turn water to blood, and smite the earth with plagues. But when they finish their testimony the beast from the bottomless pit kills them, and their bodies lie on the street of that city where our Lord was crucified. There is no doubt therefore with what city we are dealing. People are glad they are dead and rid of their testimony; but after three and a half days they are resurrected and ascend up into heaven in a cloud. This is a highly figurative passage and while it means something, is to be taken symbolically rather than literally.
Who were these two witnesses? That is a question often asked and deeply pondered. Now we are obliged to John for dropping a hint that gives the clue. The meaning often lies on the surface while we read right over it and fail to notice it. The hint to which I refer is found in the fourth verse: "These are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth." But that is familiar language. Where did we hear that before? Go back to Zec_4:1-14 , and you have the reference. There Zechariah has a vision of two olive trees pouring oil into a lamp and he asks: "What are these two olive trees on the right and left of the candlestick?" And he is told: "These are the two annointed ones that stand before the Lord of the whole earth." Whatever slight differences there are in the two accounts they are evidently the same thing. John's vision reproduces Zechariah's, and whatever Zechariah meant, that evidently John means. Now as we study Zechariah we find that he means by these two figures the head of the state and the head of the church. Both of these had great power and authority over the hearts and minds and lives of men. Civil and religious authority go far to restrain the evil passions and deeds of men. And in the social and civil convulsions that destroyed Jerusalem when the Jewish state was crushed, when the temple was burned, and the leaders of state and church were slain, it would look as if the power of law and religion had perished; and the witnesses to social order' and moral restraint were slain. And there were men then, and there are some still, who are glad when all authority and restraint are dead, and anarchy and license revel rampant.
But things can't last that way. Men must revert at length to law and order and moral restraint. No society can endure without legal and moral safeguards. And so the witnesses are resurrected. Anarchy may last for a little while, and the wicked may rejoice; but government and religion can't stay dead. Their resurrection is certain, and that after a very short reign of terror. And that is what we think is meant by these two witnesses. They may be thought of as personifications, or as personal representatives of religion and government. But John says: "These are the two olive trees," and Zechariah supplies the explanation.
Vs. 13-14. Here is mention of a great earthquake. One tenth of the city fell and many were killed and some were affrighted and gave glory to God. This continues the terrors in the city's destruction. The second woe is past and the third woe cometh quickly; which evidently refers to the utter and final overthrow of the city. The details are not further given. They are sealed up like the voice of the seven thunders. It is sufficient to call it woe, and it is perhaps kind to leave the rest undescribed.
Vs. 15-17. And the seventh angel sounded. Whether the last crash of judgment on the doomed city fell at the sounding of this seventh trumpet or fell with the last woe of the sixth trumpet, is not of much importance. The six trumpets may have been sufficient to describe the catastrophe, or maybe the final limax at the end of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh may be sealed up in the voice of the seven thunders. Be that as it may we have here, in the final delineation, the results and effects of the preceding events, of the treading under of Jerusalem. This may indeed be all that the seventh trumpet was intended to reveal, that is, the moral and spiritual outcome when the persecutor was destroyed.
Now we are shown a scene in heaven; when the seventh angel sounded and the stroke of divine judgment had fallen, then there were great voices in heaven saying: "The kingdom of this world has become our Lord's and he shall reign forever and ever. And the twenty-four elders fell on their faces and worshipped God." Here is the exultation of heaven over that which has taken place on earth. But how does this fit in with the view that we have been dealing here with the overthrow of Jerusalem? We will see, I think, that this is a proper climax and a proper result. In verse 18 the elders go on to say: "And the nations were angry and thy wrath is come." Jerusalem had stoned the prophets as Christ said, then crucified the Lord of glory, and later persecuted and martyred the apostles and saints, and now "thy wrath is come and the time of the dead that they should be judged," Not all the dead as if this were the final judgment at the end of the world, (we will find that at the end of chapter 20) but this refers to those martyred dead who had fallen in the persecutions. In chapter six we saw them under the altar in heaven praying: "How long Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" Now here it is said, 'And the time of the dead is come that they should be judged or avenged and that thou shouldst reward thy servants that fear thy name.' They were assured in chapter six that it would be yet a little season and now that little season has run, the doom has fallen on the persecutor, or as here said, that thou "shouldst destroy them that destroy the earth."
Now this does fit in with the overthrow of Jerusalem. Heaven rejoices that the persecutor of the saints is no more. The first great opposer is swept away, and "the kingdoms of this world," no, rather the rule or sway of this world belongs to Christ. Now the kingdom was really given to Christ at his ascension; but two things had to happen before it was rightly on its way as a world conquering power. The first was spiritual, the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost; and the second was physical, the breaking down of the barrier of Judaism in the fall of the first great opposer. Then Christianity became a world religion.
V. 19. And the temple of God was open in heaven and in it the ark of his testament and there were lightnings, voices, thunderings, earthquake, and great hail. These were the echoes in heaven of the smash and crash and cataclysm that had occurred on earth. Elsewhere in Revelation where thunders and lightnings and earthquake and hail, etc. are visioned, they are tokens of judgment and so evidently they are here. The judgment had fallen. Jerusalem was trodden down.
This ends the first half of the book. It culminates in the destruction of Jerusalem as the first great persecuting power against the infant church. Then after this the book moves on to the destruction of Rome as the second great persecuting power as we shall see in subsequent chapters. That this is the true view of the book must be evident to all who have followed this exposition with any degree of comprehension.
We have seen how it was addressed to the people and churches of John's day as a stimulus and encouragement to them in the trying scenes which they were facing. We have heard John say that these things would shortly come to pass, but he never says it would be a long time.
We have seen how the martyred saints in heaven were assured that it would yet be just a little season till their martyrdom was avenged. We have seen how the culminating events were located in Jerusalem, described as the city where our Lord was crucified. We have seen that the altar and temple and city were standing and then it was given over to be trodden under foot by the Gentiles for three and a half years.
We have seen the armies described in terrible imagery that came to besiege and destroy. We have seen the moral and spiritual aim or purpose or result that the rule or sway or sovereignty over this world belongs to Jesus Christ. The very outcome of this series of visions shows the impotence of pun^ man to oppose the onward march of the kingdom of Christ. He will overturn and overturn till he reigns whose right it is.
If this is not the true interpretation of this book, then we may despair of finding one. How could the facts and events which we have passed in review fit any other mould than that which has been given? This is the plain sensible view of the book as evidently indicated by the writer himself who penned these prophecies. And if this is the true view, then all other views are logically ruled out; for there can be only one true view however many imaginary views there may be.
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the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29