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THE SECOND PART OF THE INTERPOSED VISION. THE MEASURING OF THE TEMPLE; THE TWO WITNESSES; THE EARTHQUAKE.
THE MEASURING OF THE TEMPLE.—We enter upon the second part of the interposed vision. The Temple proper is secured. The measuring signifies its protection from profanation; the outer court given to the Gentiles indicates that practical heathenism and corruption have invaded the Church; against corruptions and profanities, witnesses, who draw their strength from divine help, are raised up to protest. Their power is great, though their witness is disregarded; for their influence outlasts their life, and their words avenge themselves on their adversaries; rejected reformation re-appears as revolution. The vision therefore declares that, whatever corruptions invade the Church, the kernel of the Church will never be destroyed, but out of it will arise those who will be true to the Master’s commission, and whose words will never be void of power.
Such seems to be the general drift of this chapter. It is stated thus briefly and simply that it may be kept in mind as a leading idea in the comments which follow, and because the chapter is generally regarded as one of the most difficult in the book. On the relation between the allusions to the Temple in this chapter and the date of the book, see Introduction. It is perhaps well to remember that, as we have taken Jerusalem and Babylon as symbolical names, and not necessarily the literal Jerusalem and the literal Babylon, so the Temple and the court of the Temple are to be understood as symbols. The gospel has elevated the history and places of the past into a grand allegory, and breathed into their dead names the life of an ever- applicable symbolism. (See Introduction, On the General Meaning and Practical Value of the Book.)
(1) And there was . . .—Translate, And there was given to me a reed like a rod (we must omit the words “and the angel stood”), saying. It is not said by whom the reed was given, nor are we told who speaks the command. The whole transaction is impersonal. The reed, like a measuring rod, is given him, and at the same time the command is given to arise and measure the Temple, and the altar, and them that worship in the Temple. Here, again, we find the basis of the vision in the Old Testament. Ezekiel was brought, in vision, to a high mountain, and saw a man with a line of flax (for measuring long distances) and a measuring line (for shorter distances). But, more probably, the vision of Zechariah was in the seer’s mind (Zechariah 2:1-2), for the vision there of the man with the measuring rod to measure Jerusalem is followed, in the fourth chapter (Zechariah 4:1-6), by the vision of the two olive-trees, which are distinctly identified with the two witnesses in the present chapter (see Revelation 11:3-4). The Temple, altar, and worshippers are to be measured. The measuring implies the protecting of, or the token of a resolve to protect, a portion of the sacred enclosure from desecration. The measuring, like the sealing of Revelation 7:0, is a sign of preservation during impending dangers. To understand what is thus measured out for protection we must remember that there are two Greek words which are rendered Temple: the one (hieron) signifies “the whole compass of the sacred enclosure, including the outer courts, porches, porticoes, and other buildings subordinated to the Temple itself;” the other (naos) is the Temple itself, the house of God, the Holy and Holy of Holies. When it is said that Christ taught the people in the Temple, the first of these words is used; and it may be supposed that in one of the porches or courts of the sanctuary our Lord carried on His teaching. But when Zacharias is described as going into the Temple, the word is the second (naos), for he went into the Temple proper, and left the people in the outer court, or court where the brazen altar stood. It is the second of these words which is used here: the Temple proper, the naos, the house of God, is measured, together with the altar. We are not told which altar is intended. It is at least too hasty to say that it must be the altar of incense, as this alone was in the Temple proper; for the explicit direction to measure the altar sounds like an extension of the measured area, and may perhaps mean that some portion of the court reserved for Israel is to be included in the measurement. The next verse, however, seems to imply that every spot outside the Temple proper was given up to the Gentiles, and was not to be measured. It is perhaps wisest, therefore, not to settle too definitely. The gist of the measurement is the preservation of the true, invisible Church, the Church within the Church; and everything necessary to the worship—Temple, altar, worshippers—all are reserved. There will always be the real and the conventional—the true and the formal Christian; always those who profess and call themselves Christians, and those who hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. These last are the called and chosen and faithful (Revelation 17:14), the sealed who dwell in the secret place of the Most High, and find therefore their safe lodging in the night of danger under the shadow of the Almighty (Psalms 91:1; comp, also the whole Psalm, especially Revelation 11:4-5; Revelation 11:9-13;.
(2) But the court . . .—Translate, And the court which is outside the Temple cast out, and measure not it; because it was given to the nations (Gentiles): and they shall tread down the holy city forty and two months. The outer court—meaning, perhaps, all that lies outside the Temple itself—is to be omitted. A strong word is used; the words “leave out” are far too weak. He is not only not to measure it, but he is, in a sort, to pass it over, as though reckoned profane. The reason of this is that it was given to the Gentiles. Our Lord had said that Jerusalem should be trodden down of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24); the sacred seer catches the thought and the deeper significance. There is a treading down worse than that of the conqueror. It is the treading under of sacred things when the beast-power, or the world-power in men, tramples, like the swine, the pearls of grace under their feet, and turns fiercely upon those who gave them. Such an experience must the Church of Christ undergo. The shrine shall be safe, but the spirit of the nations, though nominally Christian, will be the spirit of Gentilism, worldliness, and even of violence. In the outer court of Church life there will be “the ebbing and flowing mass,” who “sit in the way of knowledge,” who “stand idle in the market-place,” who have no oil in their lamps, and who indirectly pave the way for utter worldliness and practical heathenism. But there is a limit to this desecration: forty and two months it is to last. The same length of time is expressed in different forms throughout the book. Sometimes we have twelve hundred and sixty days, as in Revelation 11:3 and in Revelation 12:6; at another time forty-two months, as here and in Revelation 13:5. A similar period seems to be meant in Revelation 12:14, where a time, times, and half a time is probably a way of expressing three years and a half; all three forms describe periods of the same length—not, of course, necessarily the same period. The idea is taken from Daniel, who uses such and similar expressions (Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7; Daniel 12:11). This incorporation of the expressions used by Daniel is one of those hints which remind us that the laws and principles of God’s government are the same in all ages: so that the principles which receive illustration in one set of historical events are likely to receive similar illustrations in after times; and that the prophecies of one era may contain seeds of fulfilments which spring to fruit in more than one age. Thus the words of Daniel were not exhausted in the age of Antiochus, nor the visions of the Apocalypse in the overthrow of any one nation or the corruptions of any one Church. So much may this constantly-recurring period of three years and a half, or forty-two months, or twelve hundred and sixty days, teach us. It is not needful, then, to take the period as an exact literal period. It is true that there have been some remarkable historical periods of this length, which various schools of interpreters have pointed out as the fulfilment of these prophecies; but there have been also remarkable blunders on the part of those who, forgetful of Christ’s own warning, have tried to predict the year when certain prophecies will receive their accomplishments. It is true, also, that the future may bring us further light, and enable us to understand these descriptions of time better; but for the present, the period of forty and two months, the equivalent of three years and a half (the half of seven, the complete and divine number), is the symbol of a period limited in length, and under the control of Him who holds the seven stars and lives through the ages. It is the pilgrimage period of the Church, the period of the world’s power, during which it seems to triumph; but the period of sackcloth (see Revelation 11:3) and of suffering will not last forever.
(3) And I will give . . .—Translate, And I will give (omit “power”) to my two witnesses, and they shall . . . These are the words of God Himself; the omission of the words “and the angel stood” from Revelation 11:1 prevents any confusion of thought on this point. Two witnesses were required for competent evidence (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15, et al.), and there has constantly been a sending forth of God’s chosen messengers in pairs— Moses and Aaron, Elijah and Elisha, besides Joshua and Zerubbabel, alluded to by Zechariah; and in New Testament times our Lord sent forth His disciples “two and two,” as afterwards Paul and Barnabas, or Paul and Silas, went forth to preach. There is, besides the mere mutual support which two can give, a need for the association of two different characters in the same sort of work: the energy and the sympathy, the elucidator of doctrines and the messenger to the conscience, the apologist and the evangelist, the man of thought and the man of action, the Son of Thunder and the Son of Consolation; it is well that in a world-wide work this duality of power should be brought into play. The witnesses prophesy: the word prophesy must surely be allowed a much wider meaning than merely to predict or foretell future events. The compass of their work, as described afterwards, embraces much more than this (see Revelation 11:5-7): they work wonders, showing tokens that remind us of the days of Moses and Aaron; their words are mighty; their life is a testimony.
Their prophesying, or witnessing, extends over forty and two months: a symbolical period, as we have seen, but a period corresponding to that during which other witnesses had witnessed for God. Thus long did Elijah bear witness, under rainless heavens, against the idolatries of Israel; thus long did a greater than Elijah offer the water of life to the Jews, and witness against the hard, unspiritual, worldly religionism of the Pharisee and Sadducee; thus, too, must the witnesses, for God bear testimony during the period that the world- power seems dominant. They are clad in sackcloth— the emblem of mourning (2 Kings 6:30; Jonah 3:4) adopted by the prophets, whose God-taught hearts saw reasons for mourning where shallower minds saw none (Isaiah 20:2, and Zechariah 13:2). Compare the garb of Elijah and John the Baptist (2 Kings 1:8, and Matthew 3:4), whose very apparel and appearance were designed to testify against the evils they saw. “The special witnesses of God, in a luxurious and self-pleasing age, are often marked out from the world by signs of self-denial, of austerity, and even of isolation” (Dr. Vaughan).
(3-14) The Two WITNESSES.—It is the opinion of one able and pre-eminently painstaking commentator that “no solution has ever been given of this portion of the prophecy.” I quote this that none may be disappointed when no satisfactory solution is given here; further light in the knowledge of the Bible, and the light of history, and, above all, the aid of the Holy Spirit, may show what the real solution is. At present it is best to lay down the lines which seem to lead in the direction of such a solution. First, the aim of the present vision must be kept in mind; and secondly, the vision in Zechariah (Zechariah 4:0, all), on which this is professedly built, must be remembered. Now the aim of our present vision seems to be to explain that in the great progress towards victory the Church itself will suffer through corruptions and worldliness, but that the true Temple—the kernel, so to speak, of the Church—will be unharmed and kept safe in her Master’s hands. But the position of this hidden and enshrined Church will not be one of idle security; in that Temple will be reared in secret, as the rightful king Josiah was, those who will witness undaunted and undefiled for their Lord; throughout the whole of that chequered period of profanation and pain there will never be wanting true witnesses for righteousness and faith. To assure the sacred seer that this would be the ease, to exhibit the nature of their work and its results, is the apparent aim of the vision. If this be so, the witnesses can scarcely be literal individual men, though it is true that many literal individual men have played the part of these witnesses. Turning to the foundation vision in Zechariah, we find that the vision there is designed to encourage the weak and restored exiles in their work of rebuilding the Temple; they are shown that, weak as they are, there is a hidden strength, like a sacred stream of oil, which can make them triumph over all their difficulties: not by might or power, but by God’s Spirit, the mountain would become a plain (Zechariah 4:6-7), and “Grace! Grace!” would be the triumphant shout when the headstone of the Temple was raised. In both visions, then, our minds are turned to the hidden sources of divine strength; there is a safe and secret place measured off by God, where He gives His children strength—not of ordinary might or power, but strength of grace. This is the grace which made Zerubbabel and Joshua strong to achieve their work; this is the grace which can make the two witnesses strong to do their part in the building of that more glorious spiritual temple which is built on the foundation of Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone. The witnesses, then, stand as the typical representatives of those who, in the strength of God, have, through the long ages, borne witness for Christ against all wrong and falsehood, against a world in arms or a Church in error, or against a nominal Christianity in danger of becoming as corrupt and as cruel as heathenism. Such witnesses stand, like the two columns Jachin and Boaz, before the true Temple of God.
(4) These are . . .—Translate, These are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks which stand before the Lord of the earth. This is the verse which refers us to the vision of Zechariah for the basis of our present vision. There, as here, we have the two olive trees, which are explained to be “the two anointed ones which stand before the Lord of the whole earth.” The explanation is supposed to refer to Zerubbabel and Joshua. or, as others think, to Zechariah and Haggai. At that time these men were the witnesses for God in their land and among their people. But the answer of the angel is general: “the olive trees are the two anointed ones which stand,” &c. For the vision is general and age-long; it reminds us of the returned Jewish exiles, and of those who were then among them, as anointed witnesses, but it shows us that such witnesses are to be found in more than one era; for it is not Zerubbabel and Joshua who can exhaust the fulness of a vision which is the representation of the eternal truth that the oil of gladness and strength from God will rest on those who rely, not on might or power, but on God’s Spirit. The fact that the witnesses are two is brought more prominently forward here than in Zechariah. There, though the olive trees are two, the candlestick is but one, with seven lamps; here there are two candlesticks spoken of as well as two olive trees. This amplification of the original vision is, perhaps, designed to remind us of the greater latitude of diversity in the new dispensation. Just as in the early chapters of this book we had seven golden candlesticks, which, though one in Christ, yet are spoken of as separate, so here the double aspect, the diverse though united efforts of the two witnesses. are brought into prominence. It may serve to remind us. that the witnesses are to be expected to keep their individuality and to use freely their diverse powers. It is not from one class or with one mode of action that the witnesses come: they may be of the statesman class, like Moses and Zerubbabel; of the prophetic or priestly like Zechariah and Haggai, like Aaron and the later Joshua (Zechariah 3:1); for men may witness for God, according as the evils of their time and age require it in the State as well as in the Church. The work of Wilberforce, Clarkson, and Howard is a work and a witness for God as well as the work of Chrysostom, Athanasius, and Luther; for the witnesses are raised up to speak against the neglect of humanity as well as against errors in divinity; against a heartless as well as against a creedless Christianity, for both lead back to heathenism. These witnesses are burning and shining lights; in them is centred the light of their age; in them is found the token that the grace of God never fails, but as the Church’s day so shall her strength be. Here, too, we have the pledge that from Him who is both Priest and King the civil rulers as well as the ecclesiastical rulers may draw grace according to their gifts; and from Him, too, all who are made kings as well as priests to God may derive the power to give the double witness of a life anointed by the Spirit of consecration and ruled by the sceptre of righteousness.
(5) And if any man . . .—Better, And if any one wills to injure them, fire goeth forth out of their mouths, and devoureth their enemies: and if any one wills to injure them, thus must he be slain. These have power to shut the heaven that the rain may not moisten (the earth) during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague as often as they will. Again the Old Testament basis becomes evident; the histories of Elijah and Moses supply the illustration. The fire devouring their foes seems to allude to 2 Kings 1:10; like Elijah, they can close the heaven (1 Kings 17:1); like Moses, they can turn water into blood and summon down every plague (Exodus 7:20, et seq.). These last characteristics remind us of the spirit and power of Moses and Elias, but we must not forget what has gone before: the witnesses are like olive trees and lights. In them is concentrated grace, light, and power; their witness recalls the great features of various Old Testament teachers and leaders; they display the light of truth, and men may not oppose or injure them with impunity; they wield a power which it is not safe to provoke. As from the mouths of the great Sixth Trumpet host there went forth fire and smoke and brimstone to kill the third part of mankind, so out of the mouths of these witnesses there goes forth a purer, but mightier flame. (Comp. Psalms 18:8.) We may compare the sword out of the mouth of Christ (Revelation 1:16), and the promise to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 5:14), “Behold I will make my words in thy mouth fire and this people wood, and it shall devour them.” The word which is like a sword to lay bare man to himself may become a consuming fire to those who resist or oppose it. The witnesses for God are thus armed with a spiritual might; for that word which, when accepted and lived by, brings peace, when rejected causes pain and danger. Thus often do the things which might have been for men’s peace become an occasion for falling; the stone which, used and built into the life, becomes a precious corner-stone and immovable foundation, grinds to powder those upon whom it falls. Thus is it with these witnesses: they come to witness for principles which go to make the world a Paradise once more. The world, which casts away their words, will find them come back with scorching force; just as the breath of God gives life and beauty to the world, and power to men’s hearts and lives (Psalms 104:30; John 20:22), yet with that same breath of His lips does He slay the wicked (Isaiah 11:4). Some have thought that there will be a time when witnesses for God will be raised up who will work literal wonders such as these. It is not for us to say that this will not be the case: all prophecy may take a sharper and clearer meaning as the times of the end draw near; but, meanwhile, it is needful for us to remember that the very power of truth is such that, when rejected, it can and does avenge itself by shutting heaven over our head, and making all the fresh rivulets of life’s purest pleasures loathsome as blood to the sensualised and perverted heart.
(7) And when . . .—Better, And when they shall have finished their testimony, the wild beast that goeth up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and conquer them, and kill them. Only when their work is done has the wild beast power over them. To every one there are the symbolical twelve hours in which his life’s work must be achieved; to every one there is the time secured when he may accomplish for God what God sent him to fulfil: then, but not till then, cometh the night, when none can work. The wild beast: We shall hear much of this wild beast later on. Here we are told distinctly that the wild beast will have his hour of triumph; he rises out of the abyss, as the locust horde did (Revelation 9:1-2). There is, then, a beast-spirit which is in utter hostility to the Christ-spirit. We shall be able to study the features of this power in a future chapter (Revelation 13:1); here he is seen to be a spirit of irreconcilable antagonism to Christ. The image here is not new; Daniel made use of it (Daniel 7:0), though in a much more limited sense. This beast-power vanquishes the witnesses. If the witnesses are those who have taught the principles of a spiritual and social religion, the death of the witnesses following their overthrow signifies the triumph of opposing principles, the silencing of those who have withstood the growing current of evil. Men can silence, can conquer, can slay the witness for a higher, purer, nobler life. They have done so. The history of the world is often the history of the postponement of moral and social advancement for centuries through the wild outbreak of some brutal, irrational, selfish spirit. The Reformers, the best friends of the Church and of the world, have been silenced and slain, and their death has often been little more than the triumph of the ignorance and selfishness of a practical heathenism.
(8-10) And their dead bodies . . .—Better, And their corpse (is) upon the street of the great city, which is called spiritually Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord also was crucified. And some from among the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations look upon their corpse three days and a half, and do not suffer their corpses to be put into a tomb. And they that dwell upon the earth rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt upon the earth. Their corpses remain unburied, while congratulations and rejoicings go on; harmony and concord prevail, as when Pilate and Herod were made friends; it is the millennium of evil, the paradise of fools who make a mock at sin; but the forms of the witnesses, though silenced, still in silence witness against evil. At no time are they hid away out of sight. Even in an age of religious and social anarchy the silent tokens of a better order remain, as when in mockery and profanation the harlot was enthroned within Notre Dame, the very sanctuary walls, which no longer echoed to the psalm of Christian life, yet bore silent testimony to the higher genius of the past. They are said to lie in “the street of the great city.” The city is described as the great city (comp. Revelation 16:19), and also as Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem. Do not passages like this show conclusively that to deny the mystical or allegorical sense of the Apocalypse is to keep the husk and cast away the seed? The city is great, for it is all-important in the eyes of the inhabitants, as public opinion is all-important to the weak or the worldly; it is Sodom, for it is the place where, through pleasure and luxuriousness (fulness of bread), the worst forms of immorality take root; it is Egypt, for it is the house of bondage, where the wages of sin become tyrannous; it is Jerusalem, for it is the apostate place where the presence of Christ is hated. The same spirit which slew their Lord is alive to persecute His servants. “It cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household;” and the reason of this hatred is told—the words of the witnesses “tormented them.” “The reproof of their gospel and the reproof of their example . . . had been a torture to them; there was a voice in them which echoed its voice—the voice of a convicting conscience, and the voice of an anticipated judgment.”
(11) And after three days . . .—Better, And after the three days and a half (not simply “three days and a half,”) a Spirit of life out of (from) God entered into (or, in; i.e., so as to be in) them, and they stood upon their feet; and a great fear fell upon those who beheld them. The vision of the dry bones will be remembered; in part, the very wording of it is employed here—e.g., “they stood upon their feet” (Ezekiel 37:1-10); and a yet more sacred remembrance—the three days of our Master’s death-sleep—will be traced here. “Where I am there shall also My servant be” (John 12:26). “If we suffer with Him, we shall also be glorified together” (Romans 8:17). There is a resurrection power in even rejected truth; the strength of it is undying. If it be of God, men cannot overthrow it. “The corn of wheat that dies brings forth much fruit.” The cause that seemed dead is found to be possessed of a renewed power and life. “There is an end of resistance to the Papal rule and religion; opposers exist no more !” cried the orator of the Lateran Council in 1514; but within three years and a half the hand of Luther nailed up his theses at Wittenberg. It is one illustration among many.
(12) And they heard . . .—Translate, And they heard (or, I heard; the MS. authority is divided, though the balance inclines to the first) a great voice out of the heaven saying to them. Come up hither. And they went up into the heaven in the cloud, and their enemies beheld them. The resurrection of the witnesses is followed by their ascension. It is the token that in this too they shall have a portion with their Lord; rejected and slain, there is welcome and honour for them; they take their place with those who through faith and patience inherit the promises; they rest from their labours. But this is not all. Like Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), they are taken up gloriously, but not, like Elijah, in comparative secret; their enemies see their exaltation. As for the witnesses themselves there is the welcome rest of heaven, so there is the visible recognition of their work and power on earth; the cause which seemed dead revives, and with its revival comes the recognition of those who laboured for it; the martyred are seen transfigured, they become glorious in the eyes of men:
“Persecution dragged them into fame,
And chased them up to heaven.”
They went up in the cloud: There is here, perhaps, a touch of recollection. St. John remembers the cloud which received his Lord out of sight. Since then the cloud mingles with his every thought of ascension or descending from heaven. (Comp. Revelation 1:7; Acts 1:9.) The witnesses, like their Master, disappeared in the cloud.
(13) And the same hour . . .—Better, And in that hour there was (took place) a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and, there were slain in the earthquake names of men seven thousand: and the rest became affrighted, and gave glory to the God of the heaven. The hour of their triumph is the hour of a retributive warning on the city where they were slain convulsion, with the overthrow of dwellings and the death of seven thousand men. Is it accidental that the number is the same as the number of those who had not bowed to Baal? (1 Kings 19:18.) Rejected reformation avenges itself in revolution, and the city which might have been purified by the word is purged by the spirit of judgment (Isaiah 4:4); good is effected, even through fear; some are saved though as by fire; and, unlike those who repented not (Revelation 9:21), they give glory to the God of heaven. The visible Church of Christ is stirred; there is a reaction from the spirit of worldliness.
(14) The second woe . . .—Translate, The second woe is past. (Omit the word “and,” which weakens the proclamation.) The eagle flying in mid-heaven had announced the three woe trumpets. A voice now reminds us that two of these had passed, just as at the close of the fifth trumpet a voice proclaimed that the first woe was past. We must remember, too, that the angel which descended from heaven declared that the end should not be delayed beyond the sounding of the seventh trumpet; the last woe trumpet, therefore, is the trumpet which will usher in the closing woe and the finishing of the mystery of God. Whatever view we adopt concerning the interpretation of the Apocalypse must be governed by the plainly declared fact that the seventh trumpet brings us to the very end. The next verse only serves to make this plainer.
THE SEVENTH TRUMPET—THE LAST WOE TRUMPET.
(15) And the seventh angel . . .—Better, And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in the heaven (persons) saying, The kingdom of the world is become (the possession) of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign to the ages of ages. The literal translation is, The kingdom of the world is become our Lord’s, and of His Christ. As far as the expression “our Lord’s” is concerned, there is no need that any word, such as kingdom or possession, should be supplied, but the additional phrase “of His Christ” creates an awkwardness, and the word “possession,” or inheritance, may not inappropriately be used from the Psalm which foretells this final establishment of the kingdom of the anointed Messiah, the Christ of God. “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Psalms 2:8). It is the kingdom—not, as in the English version, “the kingdoms”—of the world which has become Christ’s possession. The contest is not for the kingdoms, the separate nationalities: the varying political systems might exist, as far as mere organisation is concerned, under the rule of Christ; the contest is for the kingdom of the world. Satan was willing to surrender the kingdoms of the world to our Lord on condition of a homage which would have left him still in possession of the kingdom of the world. But now the close of the contest is the overthrow of the kingdom of evil, the establishment of the kingdom of good: that is, of God; and He shall reign for ever and ever. Dean Alford pointed out that our familiarity with the “Hallelujah Chorus” tempted us to put an emphasis on the word He which is not sanctioned by the Greek; it is the reign of the Lord which is the prominent thought. The reign is unto the ages of ages. Surely this means always. We are not told whose voices sing this chorus; it is just the tumultuous sound of heavenly voices, growing into natural and irresistible chorus as the trumpet heralds the approach of the glorious end.
(16) And the four . . .—Translate, And the four-and-twenty elders, who before God were seated upon their thrones (not “seats”), fell upon their faces, and worshipped God. The four-and-twenty elders represent the Church of God in all ages; they sit with Christ in heavenly places, even while they are toiling and sorrowing on earth; every one of the true children of the kingdom appear before God, and their angels behold the presence of their Father who is in heaven. They were seated on thrones, not “seats” (comp. Revelation 4:4), as in English version; the word used is the same which is translated “throne” when it refers to our Lord. It is the same word which is rendered “seat” (Revelation 2:13; Revelation 16:10) when it refers to Satan; but it is better rendered throne throughout, for by this variation of translation, as “Archbishop Trench has pointed out, two great ideas which run through this book, and, indeed, we may say through the whole of the New Testament, are obliterated: the one, that the true servants of Christ are crowned with Him and share His sovereignty; the other, that the antagonism of the Prince of Darkness to the Prince of Light develops itself in the hellish parody of the heavenly kingdom” (Prof. Lightfoot, Revision of New Testament, p. 41). It is specially desirable that this thought should be kept before us in this passage, which proclaims that the kingdom and throne and power of the wicked one have passed away, and the hour has come when the victorious saints may sit down with Christ in His throne (Revelation 3:21).
THE CHORUS OF THE CHURCH OF GOD.
(17) Saying, We give thee thanks . . .—Better,
“We thank Thee, O Lord,
The God, the Almighty,
He that is, and He that was,
Because Thou hast taken Thy great power and didst reign.
And the nations were angry,
And then came Thine anger And the season of the dead to be judged,
And to give their rewards to Thy servants the prophets, and to the saints,
And to them that fear Thy name, the small and the great,
And to destroy them that destroy the earth.”
On the expression “He that is and He that was,” comp, Revelation 1:8 and the Note there. We can catch the echo of the Second Psalm throughout this chorus of grateful praise. The prayers of the groaning Church (Revelation 5:10, and Luke 18:7-8) and the cries of travailing creation (Romans 8:19) have been heard; though the heathen raged and the people imagined a vain thing, their counsel against the Lord and His anointed, His Christ (compare Revelation 11:16), came to nought; the joy of their triumph was short-lived; the kingdom of evil was but for a moment; the kings were assembled, they passed by, they saw, they were troubled, they hasted away (Psalms 48:4-5); never did the real sovereignty of the Lord cease (Psalms 2:6); but the nations would not believe in His rule; they were not wise; they turned from the kiss of reconciliation, which was life (Psalms 2:10-12); then came His anger, and the season of judgment and the season of reward. The prophets, the saints, and those that fear God’s name, the small and the great— every class and rank of the true servants of the King are included here; none are forgotten; not a cup of cold water, given in His name, shall miss its reward; for not alone the pre-eminent in Christian power and in Christian holiness, but the weak, the struggling, the obscure, the small as well as the great, are remembered: “Unto the God of gods appeareth every one of them in Zion” (Psalms 84:7; Prayer Book version). Nor is the gladness only for this blessing; there is a joy at the overthrow of those who destroy the earth. The reign of evil is the destruction of the earth. The judgments of God are in mercy to stay the spread of destructive powers and principles. The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel; the very judgments of God are merciful. (See Note on Revelation 8:2.)
But where, we may be disposed to ask, is the “woe” in all this? We are led to expect that the seventh trumpet as a woe trumpet will bring in some period of pain and trouble, as the others have done; but all we hear is the chorus of glad voices uttering praise: we see no token of woe. The answer is that we must not overlook all that this song of rejoicing implies. The chorus we hear is the thanksgiving to God that the hour has come for the overthrow of the kingdom of evil, the manifestation of the sons of God, and the acknowledgment throughout the world of the sovereignty of the Lord and of His Christ. The overthrow of that evil kingdom, which is now to take place, brings with it woo to those who have supported it; for the time of the judgment of the dead, and of those whose lives have marred God’s world, has come. It is, then, woe on all those who have misused God’s gifts and those beautiful things which He gave us liberally to enjoy. It is a woe on those who have defiled those bodies, which are the temples of the Holy Ghost, profaned the earth, which is God’s footstool, or darkened by their evil deeds the heaven, which is His throne. Those who thus defile (or, destroy: the word is so in the margin, and is the same as that which follows) God’s temple anywhere, God will destroy (1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Corinthians 3:17).
(19) And the temple of God . . .—Translate, And the temple of God was opened in the heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and a great hail. At the beginning of the chapter we noticed the distinction between the two words (naos and hieron) applied to the Temple; the Temple building proper (the naos) was measured off. Now this (naos) Temple is opened, yes, to its very inmost recesses; for not the holy place alone is disclosed, but the holiest, of all, the shrine of shrines, into which the high priest alone—and he only once a year—entered, is opened, as though anew the veil of the Temple had been rent in twain, and there the ark of the covenant of God is seen. The meaning of this, when read by the light of the measuring of the Temple, seems to be that now the secret abode of the safe-guarded children of God was revealed. In the hour of apostasies and worldliness the faithful had found their strength and protection in the shadow of the Almighty; they were regarded by God as His true living Temple, and in them He dwelt, as they, too, found their defence in Him. But now that the end has come there is no need that these should be hidden any more. The children of God, who are the Temple of God, are made manifest; and at the same time the secret spot of their shelter in troublous days is made plain, and in it is seen the token of that everlasting covenant which was the sheet-anchor of their hopes in the day of their trouble (Hebrews 6:19). The ark of God’s covenant is seen; the ark which contained the tables of the law, the rod of Aaron, and the manna is unveiled; and now is known whence they derived that hidden manna, that bread of heaven which strengthened their hearts in the days of temptation; now is known how it was that the rod of Christ’s power flourished and blossomed in spite of oft-repeated rejection; now, too, are known those high and holy principles by which the lives of the saints of God were ruled, even that law which the divine Spirit had written in their hearts (Hebrews 10:16, and 2 Corinthians 3:2). Then, too, with the ark of God’s covenant, is brought into view the mercy-seat, that throne of grace to which the weary and heavy-laden children of God had so often gone, and where they had never failed to receive grace to help in every time of need (Hebrews 4:16). The Temple of God was opened, and the secret springs of power which sustained the patience and faith of the saints are found to be in God. And out of the opened Temple, or round about it, as round the sacred peak of Sinai, the lightnings are seen and voices and thunders are heard: the tokens of that holy law which the power of the world had defied are made manifest; for God’s righteousness has not lost its strength, and that which is a power of help to those who seek their shelter in God becomes a power of destruction to those who turn from Him. The habitation of God is an open sanctuary to faith; it is a clouded and lightning-crowned Sinai to faithlessness. (Comp. Hebrews 12:18-24.) The spirit of evil, of selfishness, of luxuriousness, of profanity, which rejects its birthright, of better thoughts and holy things, leads to “the mount that burned with fire, and unto blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words;” the Spirit of God leads to “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born which are written in heaven.”
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Revelation 11". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11